History of Businesses

BANCROFT MILLS, STORES AND OTHER BUSINESSES

In the second half of the 19th century several types of mills sprang up in Bancroft. With them came the tradesmen, such as millwrights, harness makers and carpenters. Many of them were induced by the powerful and persuasive Senator Billa Flint to move with their families to the village. Homes were built, and stores were set up nearby. Thus Bancroft became the dominant business centre in the area, gradually pushing L’Amable, Ormsby, Bird’s Creek, Umphraville and Turriff out of contention.

Grist mill: The first mill in Bancroft was a grinding mill operated by Robert Thompson. Farmers from the surrounding area brought their grain to be ground by two large stones into corn meal or flour. Already then, bread was a main food staple for the population. In return for his services, Robert Thompson kept a “miller’s toll”, an agreed-upon quantity of flour.

Saw mill: Robert Elliott of Bancroft had a portable saw mill, with which he produced the required lumber wherever needed. The Davey family, – W.D. Davy and his four sons, William, Adam, George and Chester – were a formidable, busy construction team. They used the lumber to build many homes and several churches in Bancroft. Many of them still stand today.

Bancroft Custom Woollen Mill: David Fuller and his wife Josephine built a woollen mill in Bancroft in 1884. Their son Oswald would take it over later on. This mill produced and shipped yarn all over Canada. The mill caught on fire on three separate occasions. However, each time the Fuller family, with the help of neighbours and friends, repaired the damage and continued the business.

It is evident that these mills played an important role in the development of Bancroft.

Bancroft Stores and Other Businesses

The first store in Bancroft made and sold harnesses and shoes. It was located on Hastings Street and belonged to a Mr. Stubbs. Then, in the 1870s, two Englishmen, Messrs Zabel and Fletcher, opened up a general store. It became the main shopping stop for the villagers and the people from the surrounding communities. As a typical rural general store, it carried a great variety of merchandise, such as staple food items, household goods, clothing, and hardware supplies. Two decades later John Kelusky’s Department Store, which became popular as “Kelusky’s Corner”, took over some of the functions of the traditional general stores.

Three hotels provided sustenance and shelter to travellers. There was the Bancroft House, which later was renamed the Bancroft Hotel. Then there was Greenfields’ boarding house, which was later taken over by William Moxam. The third establishment was the White Eagle Hotel, which later became the Queen’s Hotel.

The Bancroft Times started publication in 1894, and John Brenner was its first publisher. This community paper still exists today and publishes weekly.

W.J. Sargent became a prominent businessman in Bancroft. He started out as a clerk in a general store at the corner of Flint and Hastings. Later he bought the store, and eventually sold it to John Kelusky. Then W.J. Sargent decided to start the first bank in Bancroft. Since he had already established a reputation as an honest businessman, the people of Bancroft and district readily trusted him with their money, which he invested wisely on their behalf. He also made loans, especially for the development of mills in the area. Availability of capital was crucial for the further economic development of the Bancroft district. Above Sargent’s bank lived two young men, Frank Thompson and Frank Kelusky, whom he employed as guards of his large vault at the back of his bank building. Forever the entrepreneur, Sargent was always looking for new opportunities. Hence in 1908 he sold his bank to the Metropolitan Bank and moved to Cuba, accompanied by several Bancroftonians. There he started a sugar plantation. He returned to Bancroft a number of times, maintaining his old friendships. He died in 1946, thirteen years before Fidel Castro’s revolution would drastically alter Cuba’s political and economic fate.

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