A Cowichan Valley Christmas, 94 years ago

Christmas, 1921. The First World War had been over for three years.

Christmas, 1921. The First World War had been over for three years. For those whose loved ones were listed on the new Duncan Cenotaph, unveiled just a month before, it likely was a subdued Yuletide at best.

For most, of course, it was another Christmas much like those before it.

There had been a large attendance of parents and friends at the Christmas “breakup” ceremonies at Queen Margaret’s School, local Guides and Scouts had engaged “in high revelry” at their annual social, incumbent Alderman H.F. Prevost and E.F. Miller were preparing to take each other on for mayor in the forthcoming election, and the busy King’s Daughters Hospital which required that patients pay their bills to be solvent was said to be in a precarious financial position.

Powel and Macmillan were promoting themselves as the “better value” clothing store; Pemberton & Son, Victoria, were advertising 171 acres (75 cleared, 20 seeded as pasture with a “never-failing” stream) for $20,000 with easy terms; Frewing & Robertson guaranteed prompt delivery of stove wood as well as moving furniture and doing hauling of all kinds.

In a prominent ad, Miss Baron wished her patrons a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and urged one and all to watch for particulars of her forthcoming great removal sale.

As for those businesses which catered to everyday needs, most of them advertisers, of course, the Cowichan Leader offered a front-page guide to what was available, food-wise and gift-wise, for the coming holiday.

City merchants were lauded for their colourful window displays that overcame the “drabness of everyday life [and] create within us a spirit of hope and rejoicing”.

Not that downtown businesses were slackers at creating a welcoming ambience for customers throughout the year: “Let it be said here that our merchants do not wait for any special season to make their places of business attractive. In no community of its size, and in fewer larger ones, will one witness neater or more artistic displays from day to day then those presented by Duncan’s shopkeepers in their various windows.”

So what did the newspaper’s Saturday stroll downtown turn up? L.A. Helen’s stationery store was offering a new stock of toys, stationery and sheet music; Duncan’s Cash Grocery was exhibiting “an effective display of tempting goods”; Fox’s Dry Goods was crammed full to overflowing — but all neatly arranged, mind you; Miss Barron was promoting “articles of pleasure for the kiddies”; the Island Drug Co. had devoted its front windows to a display of French Ivory (a synthetic plastic look-alike of the real thing used in the manufacture of toiletries, etc.) and gramophones.

All city butcher shops (C.B. Mains, Edward Stock and J.H. Fry) appeared to be doing a thriving business. Fortunately for the consumer, “competition is keen and prices are low so that the question of Christmas dinner will not be a difficult one to most residents with the necessary [note] cash”.

The Leader then encouraged readers to buy local: “…Apart from some of the luxuries of life it is not necessary to go outside your own town to shop. Your local stores have a vast and remarkable variety of high class goods at prices no higher but oftentimes less than outside houses and, generally, of better quality.

“What is lacking possibly, particularly in dry goods, is display space and sometimes one thinks because they cannot see what they require that it is not in stock. Time and again this has been found erroneous and, what was equally gratifying, the prices were less than even in the big mail order houses.”

Not to ignore businesses in outlying areas, the Leader concluded with a tip of its editorial hat to Kingsley Bros. of Shawnigan Lake for their bright, clean store whose “Yuletide decorations and attractions in all kinds of provisions make this lake emporium a most pleasant shopping centre”. The varied Christmas stock of Cobble Hill’s Macklin & Napper “has an appeal which is irresistible” and the Central Meat Market in both Cobble Hill and Shawnigan Lake “is one which demonstrates that Mr. J.H. Smith is as progressive as the community he serves”. At Cowichan Station, not even a miser could resist E.W. Bazett’s “varied offerings”.

The Leader reminded the aforementioned businesses that it served as their shop window, not just at Christmas but year-round. For both merchants and readers, of course, there was the concluding wish for their every success in the coming year. Which, almost a century after, your Chronicler is pleased to echo: Merry Christmas to one and all!

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