The Legend of George Stewart

The Legend of George Stewart

George Stewart LONGTIME Windsor Businessman.
George Stewart LONGTIME Windsor Businessman.

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.

George stewarts store
Stewarts Grocery Store in its latest form. Built in the 1950’s this is what it looked like after it was closed. The only difference when it was open was the windows and doors were not boarded up.

 

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.

 

Also See:

http://www.gfwadvertiser.ca/News/2010-02-18/article-1405568/A-landmark-comes-down/1

 

[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.

 

 

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28 comments

  1. I think you might get more information about George from Jack Milley the father of Don Milley in Windsor , he was Georges wife’s brother. And the S O B s that bought the cigarettes, bought them of my wife, who was very suspicious of the old money and the recent robbery , called the police right of way. !!!! George was a good friend of hers !!!!!

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  2. As a little boy I visted the store and met george on many occasions. My mom worked there.

    Its really to bad that the store wasn’t taken over and pdated

    I think I remember lines that used to go to the cash from head office and money was moved back and forth. Certainly was something out of the 50’s

    I must have been like 7 or 8 maybe.

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    • Mitchell those lines used to be all the rage in stores a hundred years ago. The Royal Stores in Grand Falls (Where Sobeys used to be on High Street) had a similar set up I was under the impression that George got his set used from the Royal Store, but I think somebody said it wasn’t the same type.

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    • Garry would you know anything about where George went to school? His father is buried in the Anglican Cemetery in Grand Falls and the family was Church of England in the 1921 Census so I assume he would have gone to an Anglican School. But I haven’t seen anything on an Anglican School in Windsor existing until 1930. You must have some more interesting stories to share.

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  3. I know for certain one car he had was a 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special, a long, low, black beauty with tall fins. The Other, a 1966 or 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado. I wonder what ever happened to them?

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  4. I had the privilege of dealing with George Stewart for many years. To say that he was a shrewd businessman would be an understatement. If I did not witness the things that he did and gave to people, I would not have believed it. Likewise, there was not a better paymaster of accounts in the town than George Stewart, but you would always have to pick up your payment, he would not mail it. I never saw his signiture on a cheque, it was always Carmel Barry. I also had the privilege of spending a morning flying with George, all over Central Nfld, and a memorable trip it was especially after take off from Little Rushy Pond. Never thought we would clear the trees. Many a railcar load of Milk, Butter, Sugar, Potatoes etc., would be off loaded by hand for Stewarts. A far different way of doing business then than it is today. Have a few good stories about his way of doing business. Most of it was when a hand shake was a contract. Not so today.
    One of the old cars was a Thunderbird and he would rather, push it from the back of the warehouse to the front, and not start it. Speaking from experience.

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  5. A couple of years before he passed I took my father in law to see George. I had told him about his store and old cars and he wanted to meet him at his house. He invited us to go down to his store where he took us in the back where to me it was all old junk. My father in law thought it was all awesome. It was thou very interesting to watch the two of them talk about all the old machinery. He was a very nice man. My Mom would take me shopping and it was interesting to shop and have cats walking around with you.

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  6. My mom Rosella Roberts (Cole) worked for Mr & Mrs Steward in their home as a serving girl before she was married and later on went to work for him in the store. I remember going grocery shopping with Mom many Thursday’s while dad waited for us across the street in the vehicle and it seemed to me half of Windsor was there picking up their groceries. Standing at the meat counter (or going inside and picking out your own salt beef, pork, and the men would cut the cheese ….so good. Always came home with a small box of animal cookies. Sad to see it closed.

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  7. George was an animal lover for sure…he fed old food to the seagulls on the store roof! I always remember the little basket that the cashiers would send up to the office when someone cashed a cheque…amazed me when I was 4 🙂

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  8. I remember going there with my grandmother Saunders and the big blower he had as you walked in the door with the garbage bag attached to it was so powerful hah…the cash registers were definelty never updated until early 2000s…such a vintage and historical place should have never been torn down…a shame I find

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  9. I started working at Stewart’s store when I was 15 along with my sister. I began by packing the shelves…..then worked the vegetable and fruit section……then graduated to being a cashier. My mom worked there as well, when she was young. My uncle Harvey Drover worked in the meat section. I appreciated Mr. Stewart giving me this job. My sister and I also had the privilege of flying in George’s plane. He took us all around Grand Falls-Windsor. It was my first ever flight! I have heard over the years of how generous George and his father were to various people who needed a helping hand. George and his wife Winnie will forever be remembered.

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  10. Yes Connie I also worked at Mr. Stewart store in the meat department and moved to the front as cashier in 1979. He also gave me a ride in his plane. I have lots of respect for that man. He helped many people out in their time of need. He ever gave me a set of towels for a wedding gift which I still have 33 years later. They are quit warned but they have memories that come with them.

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  11. I remember going to Stewarts grocery store back in the late 50’s and 60’s with my mom to shop. I found it fascinating to see all the sawdust spread around the floors, a cat or two would follow you up and down the aisles as you picked up groceries. If you went there on Friday nights it seems everybody in town were there shopping as well, but what intrigued me most was the the line George had setup when you needed a cheque changed or some money changed up the cashier would put it in a jar, put on the lid and send it along on this line back to George up in the office, he would change the cheque and send it back the same way. I thought this was awesome. Great place to shop indeed!!

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  12. I used to visit George Stewart back in the late 90’s, I was a sales rep, didn’t sell him much ,as his business was a decline by then. George told me that he was losing money at year end, but was able to get a HST rebate due to this and enough to pay his staff a salary. He said do it to keep his long time employees in a job. He used to show me his antique cars that he kept out back in a storage area with a dirt floor. He had a black 59 Cadillac and a 65 Toronado. Both cars had AC and power windows. He also had a boat that he had built, it was all decked with hardwood, looked like oak. He told me the story how he had gotten the 59 Cadillac, a business had approached him about some land that George owned in the area, so had many other people over the years wanting this land , but he refused to sell. But he told this person that, if he could find him a black 59 Cadillac, he would give him a 10 year lease on this land,so this person can set up business hoping this guy would stop bothering him. Two weeks later he received a call from this business man, he told him he had the Cadillac for him. George told me the he is a man of his word and honoured it. He leased the land to this person and 10 years has long gone past, I have the Cadillac and I still own the land. He also showed me pictures (partial pictures )of an award that he was given by the town council honouring him for all of his years in business in the town . They had invited him to a council meeting to receive the award.I told the councillor that,I had no time for you guys before and I still don’t now and I don’t want the award. A few days later he said a council showed up at his store with the award. I took the award and told the councillor that I will send pictures back to the council. He said he set fire to the award and took pictures in stages as the award was being destroyed. He said he had sent a copy of these pictures back to the council telling them what he had thought of this award. He also hung a copy of these pictures in his office. One of the last time I saw George was around the year 2000, I was coming out of the shoe store next door, I noticed he was driving a 1978 Ford Fairmont station wagon, so I approached him about his newer wheels, he told me that he didn’t buy it around here, he bought it in Gander. I always enjoyed chats with George, the last time I saw him when I was in Grand Falls Windsor to attend my father -in-laws funeral. My father-in-law had worked in George’s store as a young man , but patronized George business up until he passed away in 2006, my father in law was forever grateful to George Stewart for giving him his first job. Day after the funeral my wife and her sisters wanted to visit George Store for old time sakes. George took the time to chat with them and again took us back to show us his cars. George was a very unique man, to say he was one of a kind would be an understatement.

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  13. George also helped a family I know with clothes and books for school, and helped many more that we will never know about! He was a very private , smart and talented man.R.I.P. Mr. Stewart

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  14. George was a great man .i went to work for him back in 1959, he ask me if i was 15 i said yes sir and he told me to go up to the back of the store and see otto jewer, but i told him a lie i was only 14,i worked there for 3 years ,one day he put me at the salt meat and pork , showed me how to use the scales ,then one morning he came to me and said to me , do you know a mr barker that comes in here every thu? i said yes , he says to me well he has a lot of salt beef every time he comes in i said yes , then he says today u give him a good price on it ,now im just 14 i dont know anything about prices , and back then the beef was 39 cents a lb ,sooo in he comes takes a butter box like he always do and he fills it up ….and i says to him mr barker im gonna give u a good price on this today, when he seen what i marked on the box his eyes almost popped out of his head ,,,,,so off he gos ,, then george came along and ask me was mr barker in i said yes ,,he ask me did i do as he ask i said yes , he says how u did you give it to him for ,,,,,,,i says 19 cents a lb,,,, he put his hand on his chin and says cripes all mighty young feller just as well for you to give it to him for nothing ,,,, he never got mad at me but just walked away ,,,,, funny thing he never ask me to do anything like that agin ,,, lol

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  15. George and his wife bought a house from my parents in Point of Bay sometime in the early 00s or late 90s to use as a cabin. They bought it in cash, with the conditions that when they were finished with it, my parents would be the first to have a chance at getting in back. After Mr. Stewart died, and Mrs. Stewart was diagnosed with dementia, the house was sold back to our family for the price of the town taxes. They were truly wonderful people, who did not drive by our home to go to the cabin without dropping in with groceries and treats for my parents and their four children.

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  16. Mrs. Winnie Stewart was in a room with my mother at the Carmelite for a while. Mrs Stewart passed away this Spring, 2017.

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