A Story To Celebrate Vankleek Hill’s Mechanical Past
The recent closure of Martin Tire Shop & Shell Station prompted this re-look at the early history of Vankleek Hill service stations and mechanic services, and the services we have today.
In a 1902 pamphlet listing businesses and trades in Prescott County, we find that Vankleek Hill still has numerous blacksmiths: Philip Biggins, W.H. Blackwell, Hermas Labrosse, D. McCrimmon, A. McInnes, N. Matte, N. Mercier.
By the 1980s, Hermas Seguin was the last of the blacksmiths in Vankleek Hill. In his shop behind what was once the Grand Central Hotel, he did metal repair work and had seating for familiar oldtimers to confab around his stove.
In the early 1900s, blacksmithing gave way to mechanics as vehicles replaced horses, trucks replaced horse-drawn carters, and tractors took over from the horse-drawn plows. The late Lionel Mercier, a longtime town councillor, was a member of the Mercier family that owned the Mercier Carriage Works on High Street from 1876.
Lionel related his experience when, as a teen in the 1930s, he was encouraged by his father Nelson to become a blacksmith. He did learn blacksmithing and he capably worked for the family business on equipment and farm horses; however, he could see the use of horses dwindling and the trade coming to an end. He left blacksmithing for a career in hardware and construction supplies.
Lionel was forward thinking. As can be seen in this listing of garages, the business of vehicle sales and maintenance arrived during WWI, and just kept growing.
In 1917, Walter Crooks was selling the Dodge Grey Dart on Main Street East just east of the post office, and by the 1920s, John Wilson had a Chevrolet dealership at 76 Main Street East, today The Review office.
This list of garages is from the 1978 centennial publication of ‘St-Grégoire – St. Gregory Vankleek Hill 1878-1978‘
Competition and pricing were fierce: not only Ford and Chevrolet dealers, there was Maxwell, Overland, and Studebaker. And W.F.G. Barton sold the Star model.Continue reading