The Cannery Kid: The Company Store

Like all small villages at the time, the company store was the hub of activity. The store was down the boardwalk from the house and it sold everything we needed.

We didn't really shop there, since my mum bought all our provisions in the city from the big supermarkets that were a lot cheaper. Inside the store there was rows and rows of things from food to hardware and the building also served as the Post Office.

Photo credit Richard McGuire

The whole store was done in dark oak and everything was old or so it seemed. There were glass display cases as if the items for sale were museum pieces. It was pretty cool in there and I often thought of myself as Laura Ingalls when I came in with my allowance to buy candy.

Mr. Booth was the store manager, he and his wife Dorothy came up from Vancouver for the salmon season. He wore a tan apron just like Niels Olsen in Walnut Grove which completed the stepping back in time scene I always had going on in my head. My mum had strict rules about the store just like all other things in our lives. The company extended credit to everyone that worked at the cannery in the shape of a account book or coupons each booklet had the same denominations as currency.

The workers and their families could ring up a bill all season and then the total was taken off from their earnings in September for everyone but us. My mum only paid cash she didn't want company credit or those silly coupons that reminded her of ration coupons from the war in Europe. I think that is when I learned the song "Sixteen Tons" (You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt," "I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store.") Us kids would sometimes find a booklet of the coupons and treat ourselves to something. My friends would have to make the purchase as everyone knew the Philippson kids never had coupons.

The coupons were given to the cannery workers as an advance and could only be redeemed in the store. A practice that went back to the days of the Hudson's Bay Company .It was a way of making sure the money stayed in the company's coffers.

I remember one day my mum sent me to the store with a note. I of course read the note and wondered why I just couldn't buy what she asked for: "Tampax" what ever the heck that was. But the instructions were to give the note to Mr. Booth, so I handed over the note. I followed him to the section where this mystery product was kept and he handed me a box wrapped in brown paper. How the heck does he know this is a "Tampax" when the darn thing is wrapped in brown paper?! But I paid the customary cash and returned home with the box wrapped in brown paper. The 60's and 70s were a special time!

The Post Office was at the back of the store and only Mr. Booth would get you your mail. The letters were sorted into little pigeon holes with our names on the bottom. Monday to Friday, Mr. Booth would meet the train in the morning to collect and drop off the mail bag then back to the store to sort it in to the little holes. Our family didn't get much mail but it was pretty darn exciting when we did.

photo credit Mytravelblog@tom24de

The main office was next to the store were my dad did his manager stuff. The furniture had not changed much from the 1800's to my eyes. There was a huge safe where the ledgers were kept as well as the coupon books. Mrs. Booth and some other ladies worked in the office. There was a large wooden counter that separated the ladies from the fishermen and cannery workers when they came in for their pay or coupons. One year, my dad extended the office and added a modern part on. The office was not a place we were allowed in even to visit dad. Once fall came and we arrived to clean things up then we could touch all the machines and make ourselves pretend paychecks.

View of dad's new office


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