The Legend of George Stewart
If you ask people “who was the first person to settle in Windsor?” at some point somebody was jokingly or seriously answer: “George Stewart.”
That answer would not be very far off. George was born eight years after construction began at Grand Falls and only eight years after his father became one the first merchants to set up shop at Grand Falls Station.
Colin Stewart the story goes set up his first store in a tent across from the railway station in 1905-there might not have been a proper station there at that point. Mr. Stewart Sr. set up to take advantage of the large number of workers that would be coming through to work on mill construction and to cater to people that would be stopping on the train. You have to remember that the trek across the island on the train at that time took more than a day and stores in the interior were very few and far between.
Stewarts store would have been a great location to cater to workers that were lived in the shacktown[i] near the railway tracks. At that point the only other store for workers to go to wold have been the company store-which apparently was situated in a log cabin near the workers memorial on Lincoln Road.
Within a short period of time Stewart sr. was joined by other merchants like William Anderson. By the time George was born in 1913 both communities were growing in leaps and bounds.
Grand Falls was growing so much that housing was very hard to come by. The most common conception or misconception about Windsor is that if you didn’t work in the mill you had to live in Windsor. This is partly true: You could not set up a store in Grand Falls without company consent and the company owned and built most all of the houses. And houses in Grand Falls were very hard to come by. So many people chose to build across the tracks at Grand Falls Station. In reality hundreds if not thousands of mill workers lived in Windsor over the years.
As the town grew so did Stewarts business. Not a whole lot is known about George Stewart-where did he go to school? Presumably Grand Falls Academy or maybe an earlier Church of England School maybe his parents had enough money to send him to school in St. John’s? Nobody that knew George seems to have recounted any of that information, and there wasn’t old enough living who had lived there to say they went to school with him!
To many George was enigmatic. He seemed to have shied away from public life and had a certain reputation for, shall we say, thrift. But on the other side of the coin it is reported that people have no idea of his private philanthropy. It can be presumed that George probably started working at his parents store in the 1920’s and took it over in the 1930s. His father died in 1948 around the age of 81.[ii]George never seemed to have retired giving him a working life that must have spanned eighty years.
Everybody would agree that George Stewart had money. It just makes sense. For years he had one of the only grocery stores in Windsor and most everybody in that town shopped there. You have to remember this was before many people have cars so most people did not go far to do their shopping. He lived in a very old and very modest house and for years drove the same old Ford Courier truck, which he had for the business.
The old blue Ford was instantly identifiable as George Stewarts There weren’t any others around like it-or was there. People speculated that the old Ford must have had millions of miles on it and he must have taken very good care of it for it to last the 30 or so years that it did. The story is that he actually had a few of these trucks. I speculate that they were initially used for deliveries but as people stopped having groceries delivered George drove them into the ground and cannibalized others for parts to keep the one of them going. Eventually old George had to give in and buy and new pickup sometime about ten to 15 years ago.
All the while George was driving the old Fords into the ground there were always stories about his cars. George had two brand new cars, somebody who knows more about cars will be able to tell you what they were. One I think was a 58 and the other might have been a 67. They were kept in warehouse George owned and the mileage on them was probably in the double digits. George also owned an airplane, a small two-seater float plane that he sometimes flew out of Little Rushy Pond.
Other than that George never seemed to spend much money on anything. Most people will tell you that walking into his store was like walking back in time. Most of the equipment like freezers and cash registers was from the fifties or sixties and I am sure if you looked hard enough you would have been able to find products stocked there of that vintage. If you were not from Grand Falls-Windsor you probably would never have been able to find the store, because it didn’t have a sign.
Unfortunately the legends of Georges money and thrift tragically led to him being robbed in 2005. Two young men, no doubt spurred on by the stories about how much money George had, and likely had in his house, broke in and held George and his wife at gunpoint. George and his wife were beaten and tied up. The culprits got with about $2000.00 in bills old enough they would raise alarm. So naturally one of the geniuses bought a pack of smokes with one of the bills (which probably had King George on it) which raises suspicion and led to his and his accomplices’ arrest. At the time of the robbery and assault George Stewart was 92 years old and luckily he and his wife survived.
The business operated for another three years. In 2008 George Stewart died at the age of 94 having seen Main Street grow, prosper and die a slow death. The grocery store closed shortly after, one of the last of the original businesses on the street, if not the original business. It was torn down in 2010-inside they found an old Ford Courier pickup.
[i] There were at least two maybe three Shacktowns when the mill was being built. One at the Station, one off Lincoln Road and apparently another near High Street.
[ii] Headstone in the Anglican Cemetery Grand Falls.