By Greg Evans
Grocery stores have had a long history in Esquimalt. According to the British Columbia Guide and Directory of 1863, two grocers were operating in the Old Village of Esquimalt — Thomas Rabson and J. P. Smith. While little is known about them, it is likely that they found a steady stream of customers in the crews of Royal Navy ships and merchantmen who found themselves in Esquimalt Harbour.
At the time of the municipality’s incorporation in 1912, the Old Village’s mainstay was the Esquimalt Grocery owned by James Mesher. Nearby was Stetson’s Confectionary which helped ensure that those residents with a sweet tooth were well looked after. Over the following years other grocery stores became fixtures in the community.
In the Beaumont area at Esquimalt and Admirals roads stood the Midway Grocery operated during the First World War by James P. King. To the east in the Thoburn area at Esquimalt Road and Head Street, the Thoburn Grocery store, proprietor P. D. Johnston, was located in the building that still stands on the south east corner and which was until recently the V. & J. Super Low Food Market. It is interesting to note that both areas were postal districts for the township. If you lived along Craigflower Road there were several stores in the Burleith area near Arm Street and at the corner with Tillicum was King’s Grocery which later became the PDY. Fresh eggs and milk were provided by small farms and dairies located with the township.
Looking back, the prices of yesteryear are always fascinating. In the 1930s, ads from grocery stores across the region show that bacon could be had for 35 cents a pound, peanut butter for 10 cents a pound, freshly ground coffee would set you back 20 cents a pound while two pounds of local kippers were available for the low price of 25 cents. Of course, we have to remember that wages were lower than today so it is all relative.
But local grocery stores were more than just suppliers of food and drink. They also served an important function as a place where you bumped into your neighbours, could chat about the latest gossip and get a sense of the pulse of the community.