Across the Tracks-The Early Development of Grand Falls Station.

It is a common feature in most places where company towns develop for another settlement to spring up. Often this is a result of people wanting to be free from the influence of the “Company”, Excluded by the Company or in many cases in central Newfoundland could not get a company house. These satellite settlements occurred at various company towns on the island-at Grand Falls, Corner Brook, Bell Island and at Buchans.[i] The most successful  seems of all the satellite settlements was Windsor.

windsor welcome sign

Windsor began life as Grand Falls Station. The first building in the area would have been the first telegraph office which was put there sometime in 1905 just as operations down by the river began. With the large volume of people coming into the area seeking work a larger railway station was needed. This was in place by 1906 by most accounts and in the meantime a number of businessmen had set up “across the tracks” from the station to take advantage of railway traffic and construction laborers.

Construction Workers at Grand Falls Station 1906. Hundreds of men and boys flocked to Grand Falls from the outports to take advantage of good paying construction jobs.
Construction Workers at Grand Falls Station 1906. Hundreds of men and boys flocked to Grand Falls from the outports to take advantage of good paying construction jobs.

Some of the early businessmen at Windsor were: Colin Stewart, Martin and William Anderson, a Mr. Burry, Maidments, Spencers and others. Stewart was a grocer who had worked in St. John’s and whose son George would go on to make his own name for himself with the same business. The Maidments started one of the early Hotels at the Station.

Main Street and Grand Falls Station as it was in 1919. Many businesses like those seen in the background on the right set up shop to take advantage of railway traffic. Many early settlers built in Windsor because of Company restrictions and a shortage of Company Houses (GFWHS)
Main Street and Grand Falls Station as it was in 1919. Many businesses like those seen in the background on the right set up shop to take advantage of railway traffic. Many early settlers built in Windsor because of Company restrictions and a shortage of Company Houses (GFWHS)

Amongst the store fronts that could have come from the old west shacks started to spring up, built by workers working in mill construction. It wasn’t the most convenient location being two miles from the work site but there would have been quite a bit of work going on at the station with regards to the offloading of construction materials and hauling them by horse to the site, most of this would be done by rail when a spur was built around 1907.

The story goes that Bond Street, parallel to Main Street was supposed to be the main thoroughfare of the “Station” it was largely ignored and business was centered on Main Street located strategically within site of the station.

Goodyear's Horse teams at Grand Falls Station Circa 1910. The Goodyear family provided the first taxi service between the Station and the Grand Falls town site. Some of the early Businesses in Windsor Can be seen in the Background. (GFWHS)
Goodyear’s Horse teams at Grand Falls Station Circa 1910. The Goodyear family provided the first taxi service between the Station and the Grand Falls town site. Some of the early Businesses in Windsor Can be seen in the Background. (GFWHS)

There is a common misconception about Windsor-that being; that if you didn’t work in the mill you had to live in Windsor. This may have had some truth to it at some point but the fact of the matter is many hundreds of mill workers lived “across the tracks” and some people who worked outside the mill (for approved companies like Goodyears or the Royal Stores) lived at Grand Falls. Windsors development was partly due to an acute housing shortage suffered in Grand Falls for many years. There was frequently a shortage of “Company Houses” in Grand Falls. This intern was partly due to strict company control of who could built houses and where they could build them. In the early days at Grand Falls there were a few privately owned houses, but most of these were built by the well to do, while others were on Station Road which was sort of outside the companies influence. But many single men and families that came looking for work at the mill between say 1919 and 1955 would live at the Station. They either stayed with friends or relatives or built their own homes on mostly squatted land.

An examination of the 1921 Census of Grand Falls Station reveals that most men were employed either by the paper mill or by the railway. Most of the others were employed in business of some sort. As mentioned there were many mill workers who lived in Windsor but many of them were not full time workers. The Newfoundland census of 1921 shows that a number of men living at the Station were employed by the A.N.D Co as barker men and river men. These were temporary and seasonal positions on the wood handling and preparation end of the paper making operation. Throughout the operation of the Grand Falls mill there would be temporary and seasonal employees, but in the early days the number of seasonal employees needed during the summer time to handle the wood coming in on the drive would swell the company payroll. The majority worked at the stage of production between the log drive and when the logs became pulp- that is to say between Rushy Pond and the ground wood mill. But most of these men would be laid off in the fall and winter. Being a temporary employee meant that you did not qualify for one of the coveted company houses. Many employees were temporary for years and would move to Grand Falls when they became permanent.

The absence of Company control and municipal government meant that many streets in Windsor were lain out rather haphazardly. Relatives built near each other and sons built in their father’s yards with little regard to civil planning.

windsor 1939
Main Street Windsor circa 1939. By this point Main Street was a bustling commercial center, home to such concerns and Cohen’s, Riff’s, Paddocks and Spencer’s. Riff’s and Cohen’s which would grow to have branches across the province began at Windsor.

There exists no concrete record of official anti-Semitism or xenophobia on the part of the A.N.D Company (not to say that it did not exist)  and for the most part those who were viewed as “foreign” were involved in some sort of business and not employed by the A.N.D Company. But the fact of the matter is that most of the immigrant population of the area-and immigrant in this case mainly meaning not of Anglo-Saxon, Scots, Irish (Anglo-Celtic) or Scandinavian descent-lived in Windsor. As mentioned there may have been no official policy of discrimination but the Jewish, Lebanese/Syrian and Chinese families that came into the area were not encouraged to set up shop or live in the company town.[ii]

As a result of this some of the immigrant families that came to Windsor became very prominent in business. These included in the first twenty years: the Cohens, Russian/Polish (The part of Poland they were from was part of Russia at the time) Jews that came to the station in 1919 and set up a dry good store that would later become very successful in both the dry goods and furniture market and the Boulas family from Lebanon. They would later be joined by the Riffs, Bashas, Lee’s, Shangs, Hongs  and Chows.

Eventually the immigrant business people along with the local Newfoundland and other business people would build a thriving commercial area along Main Street. The heyday of Main Street was a fairly long one. Dotted long the line across from the Station over those years you would have Cohen’s, Riff’s, The Globe Restaurant, Alteens Jewelers, Tuma Jewlers, Basha’s Cozy Chat and the Vogue Theatre, Spencers, Paddocks and Stewarts. Each establishment is worth a few pages on their own and the whole street an entire book!

Grand Falls Station grew to a point where it became one of the largest towns in Newfoundland. With this came problems with services and sanitation. This led to the formation of a committee of concerned citizens which led to the formation a town Council. The council decided to name the new town-the second Municipality in Newfoundland-for the British Royal Family. Grand Falls Station was now known as Windsor.Ο

-Bryan Marsh

[i] Corner Brook had a number of outlying communities that later were amalgamated into the City of Corner Brook. Buchans had a little settlement named Pigeon Inlet-named for the fictitious out port.

[ii] One very interesting fact is that there was a Chinese laundry in Grand Falls in the very early days-actually in Grand Falls. As memory serves me correctly  it may have first been located in the area around Riverview road and later moved to high street. With an influx of single men during construction it was an essential service and a good business opportunity. The Laundry was gone by the 1920’s.

 

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