(this article appeared in the August 2016 edition of “The Cowichan Valley Voice” and was written by Cheryl Galloway)
The Glenora Store & Café at “The Corners” of Marshall, Glenora and Indian Roads has a rich and varied history serving residents of Glenora and the Cowichan Valley for more than seven decades. If there is a downtown Glenora, this is it. Its lasting presence is a testament to all of its past owners, leasers and to the people of Glenora who have kept a vision and purpose of a community store alive. The site is under consideration for inclusion in the CVRD’s Heritage Registry that supports heritage conservation and planning. The store is owned and operated by The Ita Wegman Association, a non-profit organization which also operates Glenora Farm, a 90-acre farm on Waters Road. Glenora Farm is a Camphill community where those with special needs live and work together with their caregivers. The Glenora Farm runs a weavery program in the second building on the site and weave tea towels, baby blankets, scarves, bath towels and other quality items.
The story of “The Corners” really begins in 1950 when a garage was built by Warren & Cliff Wall (Wharncliffe Road is named after them) and housed an automotive repair shop with one service bay and two gas pumps. The Walls did not own it for long and sold it to a family that made it their home for many years. Bob & Mrs. Pascoe, with daughters Betty & Grace, bought it from Walls in 1952. They added the two-story building that held the first store downstairs, living accommodations upstairs and a second service bay to the garage. Bob was known for his friendliness and people marveled how Mrs. Pascoe, well into her 70’s, could jump up on the counter to reach things off the top shelves.
Don Pontious, a member of a long time Glenora family, and his business partner Dave Rinehart bought the establishment in 1975. Don and Dave worked at the north end of Vancouver Island building logging roads. Dave’s wife Donna Rinehart (nee Pontious) ran the store and family members lived in the upstairs apartment. The gas pumps were in operation, however, the service bays were not. Rinehart recalls enjoying the business and describes Glenora customers as “the salt of the earth”, who paid their credit accounts trustingly. Don and Dave Contracting is still in business in Okotoks, Alta. The store business proved all consuming for Rinehart and provided little to no time off. It sold to Lawrence and Carol Gosling, who bought it for their children to run.
The Store changed hands again in 1987/88 when Richard and Laurie Buck enthusiastically took ownership. They had a new concept for the area and opened a business called Mountain River Equipment Ltd. Buck states they did well selling fishing equipment, dry goods, clothing, gloves, sleeping bags etc. as well as fire arms and ammunition for hunters. For a reason unbeknownst to him, security safes also sold very well. Bucks closed down the automotive service bays and moved the convenience store into that space so they could keep a better eye on the gas pumps. “People would drive away without paying for their gas” he remembers. They operated both the sporting goods store and the corner store staying open 365 days a year. Christmas was one of their busiest days, he recalls. Mountain River Equipment Ltd. closed in 1992 when Canada’s GST came in, along with 8,000 other sporting goods stores across the country, Buck reports.
The businesses, lands and buildings were all sold again. Prior to the sale Octavia Altemueller leased the downstairs from Bucks and started a health food store and bakery called The Community Farm Store. This was the humble beginnings of The Community Farm Store now located at 5380 Trans Canada Hwy and the Duncan Garage Café and Organic Bakery. Octavia owned and operated Altemeuller’s Farm on Marshall Road, the first certified biodynamic farm in the Cowichan Valley and sold produce from her farm at The Community Farm Store. When Bucks sold, a group of eight community minded people purchased it in support of Octavia and her vision in 1992. Octavia and husband Christof were among this group and began the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with their organic and local food box program. At its greatest capacity, there were more than 220 families picking up a weekly box of organic and local fruits and vegetables.
The group of eight remodeled the store as a country general store adding hardware items such as nails, screws, hammers etc. Nellie Van Leeuwen managed the store and was known for being handy with a hammer. She describes developing the store into her concept as an extreme amount of work with no profit but it did put food on the table and paid wages for staff. Coffee was available by donation. She recalls a small round table with five or six chairs in the corner of the store, with as many as 15-20 people sitting or standing around drinking coffee and smoking while she kept the coffee pot brewing. Smoking indoors led to problem solving discussions for a smoke-free environment and an outdoor patio was added. A door was cut into the side of the store for access to the new patio and a washroom accessible from the outside was added to the back of the store.
These additions Van Leeuwen recalls attracted children and families to “The Corners”. This same patio, door and washroom are in much use today for lunches, ice cream and gathering. Van Leeuwen reminisces that these coffee conversations brought a community together and sparked repairs and renovations of the Glenora Community Hall and the Glenora Ball Fields. Jack Bone, a frequent visitor to the store, was a huge player in upgrading of the ball fields. “The store was the hub of the community, it brought people together” says Van Leeuwen.
Mary Jean Weatherbee, a Glenora General Store employee bought the business and leased the building and continued operating it for many years as a general store. Weatherbee remembers the film industry’s interest in the site when a location crew discovered the quaintness and charm of the Glenora Store and Café. It was the site for the pilot of the TV series “Eureka” in June 2005. Many locals hired on as extras, making their Hollywood debuts. “The Engagement Ring” a made for TV movie starring Patricia Heaton was also filmed in 2005. The Glenora Store and Café remain on the locations list for the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission.
Business partners Susan Minette and Sue Wells purchased The Community Farm Store and bakery business from Altemuellers in 1999 and leased the building. They also ran a small café with four tables and eight chairs serving coffee, blueberry bran muffins, sought after cinnamon buns, (Altemueller’s recipe) and offered a daily healthy soup such as Mexican pinto bean or corn chowder made from Altemueller’s biodynamic corn.
Minette also operated the first certified organic farm in the Cowichan Valley, “The Bright Angel Farm” located in Cowichan Station. Along with the Altemueller’s biodynamic farm this farm was the beginnings of the organic movement of the Cowichan Valley we enjoy today.
“The Susans” as they were known in familiar circles, moved The Community Farm Store and The Corfield Café into the Duncan Garage in 2003. The Café has since been renamed The Duncan Garage Café and Organic Bakery.
The Ita Wegman Association acquired the lands and buildings in 2004. Today, The Glenora Store and Café continues to feature local products and serve the community. Glenora Farm residents create high quality products along with the weaving such as herb combinations, beeswax candles, and felting which are available for purchase at the store. The Café serves daily homemade lunches and some baked items as well as offering nourishment and refreshments to users of the Trans Canada Trail or Glenora Trails Head Park. Come and enjoy The Glenora Store and Cafe and share in its ongoing history.
*This article is based on anecdotal information from personal interviews.