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Tremblay’s Shoe Repair

May 26, 2020 (0) comment

If you want to experience a taste of nostalgia, visit Tremblay’s Shoe Repair on Fifth Street, north of Lakeshore. Walking into Bruce Tremblay’s shop is like going back a hundred years in time. The shop is filled with equipment that Bruce’s grandfather bought when he started the business back in 1929.

Wilfred Tremblay, originally from Timmins, Ontario, learned the leather trade from his brother, who was a blacksmith. Wilfred chose New Toronto as the place to open his first shop on the southeast corner of Lakeshore & Fifth in 1929, pictured to the left (beside the fruit market on the corner).

Soon after, the shop moved onto the east side of Fifth Street, immediately north of Lakeshore. This building has since become a two-storey extension of the building facing Lakeshore, which now houses a bakery/deli and apartments in the second storey.

At the time, shoe shines were a dime and Wilf had 2 other competitors in town, but business was strong. Over the years, the competitors left leaving Tremblay’s, not only the only shoe repair survivor, but also the oldest surviving commercial business in New Toronto. June 2004 commemorates 75 years in business for Tremblay’s.

Mike Haslett remembers Tremblay’s well. The photo to the right was taken on Fifth Street in February 1945. The photo shows Mike pushing his sister Jocelyn in a baby carriage, right across the street from Tremblay’s Shoe Repair.

Mike remembers Mr. Tremblay finding him sitting on the curb near his shop one day, cleaning his brown shoes with water out of a puddle. Mr. Tremblay was quick to advise him that this was not a proper way to clean shoes. Mike also remembers watching Mr. Tremblay and his son working away inside the shop.

In 1946, the Tremblay’s bought an empty lot on the west side of Fifth Street, and built a new shop, pictured below with Wilfred and Clifford respectively. This building has since had a second storey added for the family quarters. Wilfred’s son, Clifford went to Fifth Street Public School and worked in the shop as a kid. Cliff continued in the business for over 50 years. Cliff’s son, Bruce, started shining shoes at 12 years of age, and now at age 50, continues to manage the business much in the style of his father and grandfather before him. Several of Bruce’s customers today were customers of his father’s years ago. Even as a new customer, you can always guarantee some friendly conversation walking into the shop, along with excellent service.

The shop is full of antiques, and is a veritable museum! The shoeshine chair was bought from the CNE Horse Palace for the first shop and was antique at the time of its purchase. There are Singer stitching machines from 1904 & 1907. There is a beautiful antique cash register that “cha-chings” up the sales up to a maximum of $6.00 at a time. There is a pendulum clock on the wall that Bruce informs me is one of many in New Toronto, purchased from a traveling salesman who came around town in the 1930’s. $2.00 deposit and an affordable payment plan. There is also a painting of a ship on the wall from Cunard Lines. Bruce tells me that his grandfather found it in the garbage one day, discarded by the nearby travel agency. When no one claimed it, it became a permanent fixture in the shop.

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