Jeff Green | Apr 26, 2007
Norm and Vi Martin live in Fernleigh, and have since they were married on May 12th in 1949. However, their story, and that of the Fernleigh General Store started long before that.
Norman Martin was born a twin of the late Norval on February 16th, 1928, in his grandparents Jim and Maggie Derue’s house, where he lives today. Jim and Maggie built the house in 1897/8; they had previously lived in an adjacent log cabin. Six feet from the front door ran the old road to Ardoch and Fernleigh - through what has now reverted back to forest and field. This was long before the 506 highway, when the road was merely a dirt track.
At the age of two, Norm, Norval, their older brother Jim and their parents Tina and Bob moved to the old church beside the Fernleigh schoolhouse. They later moved down the road to the house on the other side of the store (currently the Ripley residence). "It was close to the store and too close to the school!" remembers Norm.
Norm went to school at the Fernleigh schoolhouse from the beginning of his education until Grade 10. He wrote his Grade 9 entrance exams at the Plevna schoolhouse - all the local school children wrote their entrance exams there and then returned to their local schoolhouse to resume their studies. No school in the area went past the 10th grade - if you wanted to continue you had to go away to boarding school, something that was not a financial option for most of the local people.
Vi Martin was born to Hugh and Irene Mills of Harlowe on April 21st, 1929. Vi finished Grade 8 in Harlowe and then went to work. She met Norm at a dance in Harlowe and they went together for six years before they were married. They settled in Fernleigh and Vi worked at the Fernleigh Lodge for Mr. John Ahr from 1952 to 1965, during the tourist season. "I liked it very much; you had to like it, there was nothing else to do and you needed money to survive," Vi recalls.
Norm guided from 1952 to 1959 and worked in the bush. He then went to Toronto for 24 years and worked at the CCM bicycle plant. "I would come home Friday night and leave again Monday mornings," he said. "Later, I worked at the park [Bon Echo] for 8 years. Then I was the fire chief from 1988 until 1994, when I retired." Vi was a member of the Fire Ladies Auxiliary during that time, a group that raised money for the volunteer fire department.
The original owner of the Fernleigh General Store was Manson Davy - Norm is unsure when the store was first opened. Davy's daughter Eva married Ervin Martin, and they took over the store around 1913. Ervin was Norm’s grandfather and Norm still has the old store ledger detailing local accounts. "One hundred pounds of flour is listed as costing $3.00, a very expensive price in those days," he reflects. "Tobacco cost 10 cents a plug, and we carried Big Ben and Club brands." Norm gets a kick out of some of the entries: $1.00 for a pig, 2 pounds of yarn was 90 cents, $1.65 for a pair of boots, 10 cents for soap. "Shorts" was a term for pig feed and a "water glass" was a unit of measure for preservatives for eggs. Lead was sold to make rifle shells, as were building supplies - it was one stop shopping. "Mostly the accounts were done by barter - and trust. Very little money ever exchanged hands." he notes. He also remembers pumping gas by hand for 20 cents a gallon from the old glass-top ten-gallon tanks. "Every time you wanted to go and do something, someone needed gas!"
Another gem in his collection is the "Rules and Regulations for Telephone Lines -ARDOCH and Connections" ledger, which lists all calls that went through the Fernleigh Exchange between 1916 and 1930 - who called whom on which date and from where. An account was kept at the edge of the ledger and John B. Myers collected the bill every month. "Your phone number was listed as rings," notes Norm, "three long, one short, or some combination. That is how you knew you had a call."
Between the store and the school was a big shed with open doors to stable the horses on mail delivery nights. Folks would stable their horses and go into the store to sit and visit. "There were benches around the entire store, spittoons in the corners (that the men could hit from across the room) and a woodstove in the centre. Three nights a week, the townsfolk would come and wait for the mail to be delivered and get the local news. It was the local entertainment. You don't see that sort of thing anymore, not even a chair in a store these days." The store was sold to Keith Lyons by Norm's parents; it was later sold to Arnold Millar and then to Mr. Thompson before it closed in the 1970's.
As the age of the general store fades away in favour of newer chain stores, it is important to reflect on what keeps a small community together - its people and where they convene.
Now retired, Norm and Vi enjoy the outdoors, and watching deer and wild turkeys that come to their side yard. Every time the turkeys come, one hen attacks her reflection in the chrome of their truck bumper. It is quite a show.