100 and done

Adam Randell
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John’s Reeves Ltd. closes after a century in business

John’s Reeves Ltd., a fixture of White Bay for 100 years, is now gone.

Once operating with it’s main store in Englee, and seven branch stores, the highly successful business rode the ups and downs of the fishery, employing hundreds of people over the years.

At its peak, the Englee location had a fish plant and salmon cannery; its own schooners, saw mill, hardware and grocery store.

But the 1992 cod moratorium would rapidly bring change to the fishery dependent business. Eventually dwindling it to just one store in Englee. But the business managed to secure its place in the struggling community.

Now 66 years old and no one to take things over, third generation manager Bernard McDonald says it’s time to move on.


In the beginning

Going back through the years, McDonald said, founder John Reeves set up shop in Canada Harbour in late 1914.

“My understanding is he had some merchandise which he started selling that winter, and he had to wait until spring to restock when navigation opened,” he said. “I guess people, the fishermen especially, wanted somewhere they could buy supplies rather than having to get them from outside.”

His grandfather, also Bernard McDonald, who was teaching along the coast as well, went into partnership with John Reeves and in the early 1920s the business was moved to Englee.

Incorporated in 1936, the growing business was expanded and, overtime, seven branch stores were introduced – Canada Harbour, Hooping Harbour, Williamsport, Harbour Deep, Conche, Roddickton and Bear Cove – to better service White Bay.

With the passing of John Reeves in 1949, McDonald’s grandfather bought out the remaining shares and it was owned wholly and solely by the McDonalds.

Tragedy would strike eight years later when a fire burned down the Englee store’s three buildings.

But it didn’t deter operations.

The business was moved to the second floor of the fish plant. Within six months it was rebuilt and reopened in the same location of the fire.


Downward trends

Resettlement played a big role in the branch store closures, as the majority of them were in isolated communities.

“We lost a lot of them in the late 60s,” said McDonald.

But the moratorium on cod had the biggest effect on John Reeves Ltd.

“That’s when she started to falter,” he said.  “Simply because everything revolved around the fishery. When the fishery went so did our business.”

The final branch store in Conche closed in 1996, as McDonald was returning to take over the business from his Uncle Jim.

Eventually business stabilized and 12 years ago McDonald made the move to get involved with Sobey’s Clover Farm.

“That has helped us immensely,” he said.

Looking back, he called the McDonald’s years with the business exciting times.

“I certainly took no joy in handing over the keys of the store to another business owner on Jan .31,” said McDonald.

Summing up his emotions, he likened the sale to “saying goodbye to a child that you cared for all those years and is now moving on.”

Geographic location: Englee, White Bay, Hooping Harbour

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Recent comments

  • Florence Earle petten
    February 23, 2015 - 18:51

    my dad William Earle worked on the Maxwell FCorkum for quite awhile

  • Nancy Hillier
    March 10, 2014 - 20:06

    My mom, Annie Hillier (nee Ropson) worked at the Great Harbour Deep branch of John Reeves, Ltd. for many years. The closing of the Englee store is the end of an era, for sure. I'm sad to see it go.

  • Nancy Hillier
    March 10, 2014 - 20:04

    My mom, Annie Hillier (nee Ropson) worked at the Great Harbour Deep branch of John Reeves, Ltd. for many years. The closing of the Englee store is the end of an era, for sure. I'm sad to see it go.

  • Adam Randell
    March 10, 2014 - 14:26

    Submitted on behalf of 87-year-old Elizabeth Burt, who is the daughter of the elder Bernard McDonald. "I am the oldest daughter of Bernard McDonald Sr. I remember when ships would come from Spain for our salt fish. We also sold frozen & canned salmon all over the world. My father felt badly about the demise of the fishing industry & I think he felt it would come back one day. I am sad that this is the end of an era but I wish the new owners, and Englee, well."

  • John G Edgar
    March 09, 2014 - 19:02

    I believe John Reeves Limited had branch stores in other places as well as those mentioned by Bernard. From memories of an old calendar I seem to recall Jackson’s Arm, Croque and maybe Goose Cove. Maybe these branches operated for just for a short time. I know they had both a regular branch and a cash branch, ‘The Mart’, at Great Harbour Deep. From papers I have in my possession it appears the head office moved to Englee from Canada Harbour in 1935. Mr. McDonald Senior or, Mr. Mac as most people called him, came to Canada Harbour in the fall of 1913 on the same coastal boat as did my grandfather, Robert Edgar, who was involved in the marble quarry operations at Canada Harbour and Clay Cove. For those of us who grew up on that part of the French Shore, John Reeves Limited was a very important part of our lives. On at least two occasions the firm was my banker for personal loans...helping a young fellow buy his first car, how can you not be forever grateful for that? Everyone my age...same vintage as Bernard Junior...will remember Reeves’ last schooner the Maxwell F Corkum, locally referred to as the Carkum. It is indeed the end of an era. It is also a too important part of the economic and social fabric of our lives just to say good bye. I hope that someone is collecting and securing documents and photographs relating to this firm and transferring them to the provincial archives before they are left to get damaged or moldy. I know a lot was lost in the fire, but there must be a lot around from the branches, other business endeavours, and personal collections. It could take years for the archives staff to get them sorted and filed, but in the meantime they would be safe for posterity to get a glimpse at how things were for us. Thank you, Northern Pen, for this article.

  • Guy Fillier
    March 04, 2014 - 19:41

    John Reeves limited was a landmark for Englee well known throughout the province by those who travelled to prosecute the Labrador Fishery in early years. It was highly perceived by St, John's businesses from its early history from whence it purchased supplies and sold fish produce.Throughout its operation it became well known internationally because of its quality salt fish. The management was second to none as it prosecuted the varied activities that brought economic benefits to the residents who grew dependent for work as well as supplies. Without question John Reeves Ltd. holds a prominent place in the history of Englee and some other White Bay communities. I commend all those who managed to provide longevity to this "firm" despite the many challenging encounters along the way.

  • Barbara Humby
    March 04, 2014 - 19:32

    I remember my mother often telling about coming to Englee from her home in Nipper's Harbour, Green Bay NL to work in the office at John Reevs Ltd. in Englee. She was only 17 years of age at the time.

  • Todd Curtis
    March 04, 2014 - 14:21

    My grandfather Hezekiah Randell worked for John Reeves Ltd for many years until his retirement in Englee.

    • david pollard
      June 02, 2014 - 22:30

      my grandfather john randell managed the store in whooping harbour

    • david pollard
      June 02, 2014 - 22:33

      my grandfather john randell managed the store in whooping harbour