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Mel Cook

May 29, 2022

Mel Cook with a 24 pound muskie

Do you remember Mel Cook – Coboconk Photographer and Merchant

As a merchant in the mid-twentieth century Kawarthas, being a memorable personality came with the territory. By today’s standards there were a surprising number of similar businesses, everything from service stations to hotels to blacksmith shops. With so much local competition, the friendships that merchants formed with their customers were an essential part of their business. Over the course of the twentieth century there was a great consolidation of main street businesses.

Customers at Mel Cook’s General Store were quite likely to hear all about how the local hunting parties were faring. Mel was an avid outdoorsman who loved to canoe, and often took his camera with him. Perhaps the most memorable image of him is a 1920s shot of him holding a 24 pound muskie. Many striking images of Coboconk and the Gull River watershed from the mid-twenieth century are thanks to his artistic eye.

The store was originally operated by John H. Ham, who also managed the post office. His son (James Arthur) partnered with Mel, who took over the business by the 1940s. Mel was a merchant whose formative years took place during the Great Depression. His store was unusual in that he did not put his merchandise out on display. Rather, customers would come to him with an order, and he did his best to put it together for them while they waited—and of course shared a story or two. Back then, merchants subdivided much of the produce they brought in–customers could buy just the quantity of flour, sugar they wanted or even just one pickle.

Many thanks to the Shedden Historical Society.

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