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.
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.”