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Coalmont store owner a colourful part of the ‘city of destiny’

Isaac McTavish began his business selling goods from a tent
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Some 113 years later, his footprint remains.

Upon entering the village of Coalmont, one can’t miss it – the old General Store, built and operated by Isaac McTavish.

Born in Palmyra, Ont., to a family of farmers in 1873, Isaac somehow found his way to the remote town of Coalmont in 1911, the same year it was advertised as the “city of destiny.”

As he began construction of his landmark store, Isaac sold his goods from a tent.

Referred to as Mac or Ike, in the 1940s, he was described as “a pleasant man of ample proportions, elderly with wispy, reddish, greying hair and usually sporting a high-crowned hat.”

While he never married, it appears he wanted to. When he spotted an attractive woman, he was known to comment, “Oh, she can put her slippers under my bed any time.”

Was he the bachelor who placed the ad in the Coalmont Courier which read: “WIFE WANTED by a man in good position in the Tulameen: young widow not objected to if able to cook sew and keep smiling. Advertiser no chicken but husky and would make good husband?”

Isaac was a teetotaler who donated sugar for the coffee served at local dances. His store had a telephone switchboard, and he owned the first car in Coalmont – a Ford touring car which he used to pick up mail from Princeton to be delivered from the Post Office in his store. For an unknown reason, McTavish’s General Store was the only store in Coalmont that would not deliver goods to Blakeburn, the coal mining settlement up the mountain.

Isaac was a very likeable man who ate most of his dinners at the Coalmont Hotel. He also had a very unusual pet – a bear.

“Teddy” entertained adults and children alike until one day when he escaped his chain to go adventuring. After raiding a local’s outdoor refrigerator of beef and fish, Teddy washed the meal down with beer pilfered from the local liquor store.

For dessert, he broke into McTavish’s cellar storeroom and gorged himself on jelly powders. While Teddy slept off his hearty meal, Isaac managed to slip the collar back onto the bear.

After 32 years in business, Isaac decided it was time to retire. He was about 70 years old.

Isaac sold his store to Ed Rioux and moved to New Westminster. Walt Smart (who purchased the store from Rioux) visited Isaac at his new home and commented that Mac wasn’t happy; he missed Coalmont. Isaac died at the age of 77 and is interred at the Ocean View Burial Park in Burnaby.

As you round the bend into Coalmont, Isaac McTavish’s iconic General Store greets you.

Today it is a private residence, but if you let your imagination wander, the walls whisper with stories of the past and the laughter of forgotten voices still lingers in the old wood siding. Mac is gone, but his legacy lives on.

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Andrea DeMeer

About the Author: Andrea DeMeer

Andrea is the publisher of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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