Back in the early 1950s when I was starting school, downtown Sarnia was the shopping area.
It was before the Eaton Centre, before the Lambton Mall. The London Road shopping plazas east of Murphy didn’t yet exist.
If you wanted to shop, the downtown was it.
So it was big news when the Northgate Shopping Centre announced it would open on Thursday, March 24, 1955.
Declaring itself the “first of its kind in Southwestern Ontario,” the new commercial mecca promised a grand opening weekend of fun and prizes in Sarnia’s “shopping showplace.”
Northgate merchants wanted the entire community present when it threw open the doors at 9:30 a.m. It was easy to find, located just south of the No. 7 Dual Highway at Exmouth Street, with free parking for up to 2,000 cars.
The list of prizes to be won was prodigious. Six bicycles were given away – three for boys and three for girls, along with dinnerware sets and five kitchen clocks.
Other prizes included 50 dolls “representing all nations,” books of theatre tickets and 10 dart board sets, as well as radios, bathroom scales, floor polishers and 50 encyclopaedias of cooking.
But wait, there was more.
Every woman who attended the grand opening received an orchid along with a chance to win a “Breath of Spring” muskrat fur jacket.
Men could vie for a home workshop complete with accessories or Kodak movie cameras and projector. There were power drills, a Coldspot deep freezer, and Kenmore electric dryers, electric kettles, electric food mixers and five electric steam irons up for grabs.
And the grand prize was really grand – a brand new 1955 Oldsmobile.
Northgate promised residents “one-stop shopping,” a place where you could cash a paycheque at the Bank of Nova Scotia, drop off laundry at Barges Cleaners, get a haircut at Chuck’s Barber Shop and grab lunch at Latner’s Restaurant.
You could buy a new pair of shoes at E&R Shoe Store or have your old ones fixed at Jim’s Shoe Repair.
Simsons-Sears and Woolworth’s and Dominion provided the big anchor stores, with a supporting cast that included Brown’s Silk Shoppe, Mel English Pharmacy, Grinnell’s Music Store, Macklin’s Flower Shop and Minden’s Credit Jewellers.
This was the booming 1950s when the economy was setting postwar records. Families were growing and jobs were plentiful in the city and Chemical Valley.
At the dawn of the shopping mall era the opening of Northgate was something to celebrate.