GUEST COLUMN: When ‘Russkirk’s’ was the place for a fill and squeegee

These buildings at the corner of Russell and Wellington streets were once home to a gas station and variety store. Journal Photo

Bob Boulton

It’s amazing how important landmarks can disappear and quickly fade from memory.

Take, for example, Russ Kirk’s gas station. It stood on the northeast corner of Russell and Wellington in Sarnia, and though the building is empty now I once had to bend backwards to read the Esso sign as it swung, creaking up above.

The gas station itself was the main building at a busy intersection. I can picture its spirited heyday, along with the words of the Kirk family motto: “That is best that is first.”

I liked to go to that corner to watch the action. “Be very careful, Bobby,” my parents would warn. “Pay attention; they go a hundred miles an hour over there.”

Across Wellington, on the northwest corner, stood a small wooden grocery store. I don’t recall anyone ever actually entering for groceries, but Russ Kirk’s (my father pronounced it as one word – Russkirk’s) was a different story.

There, impatient cars zipped in and out during the shiny age of oil and gas and clean windshields.

Don, the unforthcoming gas station attendant, would fill the tank, check the oil and squeegee windows. And Russ Kirk, the man himself, could be seen under the cars up on the service bay hoist, wiping his hands, looking simultaneously thoughtful and rushed.

Right next door his brother, Murray, and Mrs. Kirk ran a variety store, which today is where Flowers Forever florist shop is now cheerfully open.

I’m tempted to peek in the window. Back then it revealed strings of red licorice and a pop cooler, as well as shelves of sparkling giftware. I could never go wrong getting a gift for my mother from Mrs. Kirk’s display.

Upstairs, on the second floor, was the office of Dr. George Milne, our family dentist. It was just a two minute walk from our home, and though he was a lovely, gentle man, the walk to any dentist always seems too short and the return never fast enough.

I half-recall he had a ‘power drill’ activated by a foot control. The notion of an electric drill was oh-so-very modern. The ‘drill bit’ looked huge as it whirred and whined its way toward me.

One of Dr. Milne’s sons remembers going to that small office every weekend to “fix” his dad’s dental equipment. Two sons and a granddaughter went on to become dentists in Sarnia.

Today, a sign says the upstairs is ‘private residences.’

As we emerge from this challenging time, hopefully other new businesses with talented and honourable people will occupy the former Kirk’s gas station space.

I think I can be forgiven for resting mostly on my childhood memories. And the Kirk family motto: Optimum quod premium.

Bob Boulton is a Sarnia writer of stories, articles and light verse.