Charlie Donevan’s century of hardware and the houses of the 1000 Islands …
Of course there are screws, nails and hammers, paintbrushes and garden hoses, but most people entering Donevan’s Hardware come to see the proprietor.
Charlie Donevan has been behind the counter for well over 90 years. He started as a delivery boy at age eight and suspects he was filling shelves at age six in his father’s hardware store, which his grandfather opened on Gananoque’s main street in 1872.
He’s still there six days a week at age 94 feeling responsible for maintaining the beautiful cottages out on the 1000 Islands.
For many decades Donevan’s was the place to go whenever repairs were needed on the cottages and seasonal mansions out on the 1000 Islands. The place was so busy Donevan had plumbers, electricians, even welders on staff to advise and service customers.
And of course Charlie could answer most of his customers’ questions. He cut back some of his time in the store to earn a degree in mechanical engineering from Queen’s University.
The questions he answers today are more about Ganonoque’s history and geography and there is little that stumps him. His grandfather James owned one of those 1000 Islands and Charlie was there when anthropologists uncovered evidence that indigenous peoples occupied the island 10,000 years ago. He’s had an interest in the history and geography of the Gananoque area ever since.
Charlie and his wife Kay owned and operated the Landon Bay campground and trails on the St. Lawrence River for 40 years. During camping season he worked in the store until noon, turned the store over to his employees and then managed the campground, including all maintenance.
The couple donated their 225-acre property to the federal government in 2000 as an ecological preserve, which is now part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, one of 610 from around the world recognized by UNESCO.
The Frontenac Arch is an ancient granite ridge, rich in minerals, that connects the Canadian Shield to the Adirondack Mountains.
You’ll find Charlie behind his hardware counter six days a week, but the hardware business has changed big time since Donevan’s hay days. Canadian Tire, Home Hardware, even dollar stores have come to town to absorb many of Charlie’s customers.
So Charlie reduced his large store by half and now shares it with a studio for local artists. He doesn’t charge the artists rent for the space because their creations bring in regular traffic, most of which wander into the hardware half of the store.
Gananoque participated in a national campaign of communities creating large outdoor murals to salute their features as part of the Canada150 celebrations.
In Gan – as the locals call it – 400 residents each painted a four-inch-square ceramic tile that were combined to make an eight-foot by eight-foot mural.
Charlie Donevan is the principal person in the mural. He’s wearing his famous beaver-fur top hat, sitting in a rowboat that sits on a flatbed railway car. The mural depicts much of Gananoque’s industrial history, which was home to Canada’s shortest railway line. The 8-kilometre-long 1000 Islands Railway ran from the river’s edge north to the Grand Trunk Railway, now CN.
If you are passing through Brockville, Ontario (just up the road from Gananoque), drop by 1000 Island Pizza for a good nosh.