Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Frank Cooper’s General Store. The store has been closed since the early 1960’s and Frank, grandson of Thomas Cooper the founder of the community, operated his Excavation business from the location. Frank is still a busy man at 87 years of age. During my visit, he was on the phone arranging and coordinating gravel deliveries to places all over the area. He is slowing handing the reins over to Darren Bunker. Darren and his father were both long time employees and now own and run the business from the Court House building across the road from the General Store.
A beautiful string of Christmas coloured lights span the road between the old store and the court house, so that it is impossible to miss the remains of the town even at night. The Court House was long mistaken for a blacksmith shop, which it never was, and considering its construction, it is difficult to understand how that mistake might have been made. The section of the building most likely misleading other authors was not constructed until the 1940’s for the excavation business. In fact, the building acted as a community hall but was primarily where Thomas Cooper held court as the town’s magistrate. Thomas Cooper would hear cases on the second floor of the building and kept detailed records of each case in his diaries. These diaries were also the record of the earliest days of the community. Unfortunately, when Thomas retired, he had the diaries burned for the privacy of the town’s citizens. It’s a shame because most of those cases would have little consequence to the people now and would have made an extraordinary history of the place.
Frank was gracious enough to give me a tour of the entire General Store and the living quarters. As we moved from room to room, he would give me little anecdotes about life in the house.
Frank was the youngest of the children in his family and because of his low position on the totem pole, he got moved around from one bedroom to another. His favourite room was in the front corner (SW) above the Store. It had two windows and the sun would always pour in the afternoons. When Frank was a boy, he could often hear the howls of wolves in the bush at night. They would howl in the fields off toward the Muskoka border. He and his brothers would sit crouched and quiet wondering if the wolves were looking for them… His Grandfather’s experience losing a cow to wolves while on the road with supplies one night would certainly have been a part of his family mythology and influenced his childhood fear.
The other front room belonged to his mother. His father passed away when Frank was 2 years old, so his most of his memories are of her. Once, Frank told me, his mother was away and he was minding the Store when a fire broke out in the stove pipes that snaked throughout the house and acted as a radiator of sorts. They ran horizontally along the hallway on the second floor and through his mother’s bedroom.
The pipe running through Mother’s room was red. I couldn’t believe that it has not exploded in flames. I ran down the hall and got water to pour on it and it never burned. I had to replace the pipe.”
The pipe he refers to is the only silver coloured pipe in a house filled with black ones.
The stove pipes also acted as a great way to dry laundry. There is a clothes line crossing the hallway at the top of the stairs that was always full of clothes. One night, Frank was returning late from a date after his mother had gone to bed. Not wanting to awaken her and face up to the late hour of his return, he snuck upstairs in the dark and tried to make his way to his room, which, at that time, was at the back NE corner of the house. He had to get past the clothes line.
I became entangled in the clothes and couldn’t find my way out to my room!”
Frank ended up spending part of the night in the hallway…
The bathroom was added to the second floor out of part of a utility room in the 1940’s. The pink tile is reminiscent of many city bathrooms I have seen. It is no longer in use due to damaged pipes, but all the hardware is original. There is an old light that reminds me of one I had in the 80’s from the 1950’s. There was no window in this room, so its warm light would have been all that was present during that winter bath.
Frank had to go back into the office and left me upstairs on my own to shoot some photographs. In spite of my wide angle lens, many of the narrow rooms were difficult to photograph. The lights were dark and yellow and, in spite of the fact that heat was no longer being sent to this part of the house, it felt warm. Frank had opened a tiny window at the end of the hallway, casting a bit of cool late afternoon sunlight on the pale teal blue coloured wall – a colour I was becoming accustomed to seeing in buildings where the walls were not lathe and plaster, but tongue and groove. The photograph makes it appear a bit grayer than it actually is…
When Frank returned, we headed along the sloping floor to the stairs were he mentioned how he loved to slide down the banister and bounce off the stairs, making such a terrible racket that his mother would tell him to get off the railing and close the door of the stairs behind him.
And the Newsletter is finally nearly ready. I delayed it to include my interview, last Friday, with a 90 year old past resident of the Yellow Door House. Apparently there was GOLD in its history… Everyone on the sign-up list should receive it sometime on Wednesday! Sign up using the link on the right column if you want to receive the newsletter!