When I was 10, back in 1957, my father bought me my first camera. It was small and ridiculously easy to operate. You loaded in film, pointed the camera and clicked the shutter button. It was called a Brownie.
For about two years I went on a rampage of taking photos. I took pictures at Rock Glen, at Hanna playground and shot dozens of photos of childhood buddies.
Now that I’m 70, I wish I’d taken more photos of our changing city. I wish I had photos of the old post office on Davis Street, with its iconic clock tower. I remember going there with my Dad on Saturday mornings to pick up his mail.
I wish I’d taken photos of the old Armoury on Christina Street, the carnivals that used to set up at the foot of London Road on the waterfront, and the now-vanished places like the old Hambone Restaurant, the Pine Room bar at the Vendome Hotel — where I used to tend bar —and the vanished third floor of the Royal Bank building at Christina and George.
The face of a city changes with surprising rapidity.
I recently came across a 1989 “Dining Guide” to Sarnia. The year 1989 wasn’t that long ago, but perusing its pages brought back memories of many vanished businesses.
Granny’s Chicken Coop claimed to offer “the best barbecued chicken in town” that year. The current site of Stokes Inland was home to McGinnis Landing, and Ruby’s Piano Bar on Front Street advertised steak and seafood “in an elegant setting.”
The Fireside Inn provided an “all you can eat Super Sunday buffet,” while a bakeshop and home-style cooking were available at the Apple Tree Inn. Chaucer’s Steak House in the Canterbury Inn sold a “Canterburger” for $4.65. The Canterbury Inn is now the Lambton College student residence and banquet hall.
You could enjoy a prime rib dinner at Williams Beef Parlor for $9.95 or savour the “tastiest view of Sarnia” at JB’s Harbour House on Sarnia Bay.
In Point Edward, live entertainment, dining and dancing were available at the Bridge Tavern. On Venetian Boulevard, the Sea Shell Restaurant across from the tourist info building served up daily lunch buffets for $6.95.
A directory featured a host of forgotten eateries. They included Calhoun’s at the Happy Valley Tavern, the old Bunsen Burner on Vidal Street and the Continental Restaurant on Mitton Street, where I remember my first taste of “pizza pie” in 1960.
What’s the lesson left by these and other lost businesses? Capture the sights of your changing city now, while you can.
And it’s easier these days with no pricy film to purchase and develop.