Few business ventures ever survive 100 years, and even fewer are still run by the same family.
But such is the case at Praill’s, a greenhouse operation that’s literally been part of the local landscape for four generations.
Frank Praill was in the insurance business when he bought 60 acres of farmland at Blackwell and Modeland Road in 1915.
Tomatoes, melons and other produce Frank grew were carted by horse and wagon to market, and the daffodils and snapdragons from the greenhouse sold at a florist shop he opened on Ontario Street in 1925.
“This was way out in the country in those days,” said his grandson, Bruce Praill, 67, who took over the business from his dad, Harold.
“It’s where I learned to drive. Taking the truck around the field and picking up tomatoes.”
Harold Praill was one of the originators of the Sarnia Farmer’s Market. He was also the first to sell Christmas trees to Sarnians, driving up to the Bruce Peninsula to cut and haul them back.
Produce grown on Modeland Road was packed and shipped via Canada Steamship Lines as far away as Thunder Bay.
By the 1960s, the market gardens were winding down and the greenhouse business was expanding.
As Sarnia spread eastward, most of the farm was sold for residential housing.
This spring, on the four acres that remain, Praill’s has 40,000-square-feet under glass and plastic, with half a million young plants in pots ready for eager home gardeners.
“The business is always changing and you have to adapt,” said Bruce, standing beneath some of the 5,000 hanging baskets currently under cultivation.
Earlier this year, three of his four sons – Ian, Chad and Sean – assumed ownership of the family business, becoming the fourth generation of Praills to manage the operation.
After a century, many of the family still lives onsite, which, Sean Praill said with a laugh, is a mixed blessing.
“You can’t call in sick very easily here.”