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Walker Brothers had dresses, ham and ‘exotic hors d’oeuvres’

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Phil Egan

As the oldest child in a family of twelve, I grew up in a home that needed constant provisioning.

I shudder now to think what my father must have spent in his weekly grocery bill. He had his own successful business, so the refrigerator was always full. But school lunches would be one thin slice of ham between two pieces of bread.

Whenever my mother needed something, she would send me walking down Mitton Street to Walker Brothers, in Mitton Village. I especially remember the weird little finger sandwiches on dyed bread she wanted for any social gathering. In the early ‘60s, these passed as exotic hors d’oeuvres in my parent’s circle.

Walker Brothers began in 1920 at a time when large grocery markets were just beginning to appear. It started as a small frame building operated by Iven Walker – a meat and grocery business. In those days, Mitton Street was a mud road passed by country folk coming into the city. Iven’s brother, Fred, joined him in 1921 and the store began to expand from the “cramped one-storey shack,” as Iven Walker would later describe it. Those premises were replaced in 1932.

Following the introduction of a dry goods department, the Walkers added ladies and children’s wear in 1934.

In 1936, the store became one of the few of its kind to both sell food and prepare it as well. A catering service for banquets and dinners was established and the business continued to grow. By 1955, Walker Brothers was a strange combination of grocery store and department store, having added a home furnishings section.

Born in 1898, Iven Walker was elected to city council in 1946 and became mayor of Sarnia in 1959. His attempt to bring a university to Sarnia was unsuccessful, but his efforts did lead to the creation of Lambton College. He also was responsible for Sarnia’s inclusion on the Royal Visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1959.

I have clear memories of seeing Mayor Walker and his brother, Fred, greeting Saturday morning shoppers at Walker Brothers in the early 1960s as they stood side-by-side in front of the meat counter.

Leo Haagmans joined the store after emigrating from the Netherlands at age 23. He purchased Walker Brothers after Iven Walker retired in 1973. Fred died in 1961 and Iven followed in 1990.

Walker Brothers closed for good in 1992, leaving 28,000 square feet of retail space vacant and generations of satisfied customers disappointed and looking for new places to shop. It was a sad end to a true Sarnia shopping institution, best remembered for quality products and truly personalized customer service.

 

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