Iconic Meat Market goes up for sale
Noel Vanwalleghem is prepared to part with the Creemore property that has provided both shelter and livelihood since coming to Canada as a boy.
He said the reason is simple. At the age of 78, he is no longer interested in being a landlord.
Noel has had ties to the Meat Market building on Creemore’s main street for close to 70 years. For 50 of those, he was the owner operator of the grocery store, and several apartments. The uniquely shaped brick building at 151 Mill Street, is now for sale, along with the apartment building to the south.
His stepfather Jerry Vanwalleghem bought the building in 1947, when he was a newly landed immigrant from Belgium. He was a butcher, like his father, and the butcher shop came with an eight-acre property at the end of Collingwood Street, where there was an abattoir. He would buy local cattle for the weekly slaughtering and bring the meat down to the meat market to age for two weeks before he butchered it.
His father’s butcher shop had been in Passchendaele but the family was displaced by the infamous First World War battle, which destroyed the town. Noel says his father always got quite upset remembering the horrible day when people were fleeing the town, crossing a bridge by the thousands. Tragically, the family lost a daughter in the battle. Noel said her name is now inscribed on the reconstructed bridge, along with the other victims.
The butcher shop destroyed, the family relocated to Menen. That’s where he first met Noel’s mother, Alice Vanmarcke. She had an electrical shop where she sold chandeliers made by her late husband and Noel’s biological father. He had died of leukemia, possibly due to led poisoning from soldering with lead.
“That’s how my mother knew of Jerry, when he was in his early 20s and her comment was, ‘What a good looking man he was,’” said Noel.
In 1952 Jerry Vanwalleghem went back home to Belgium and looked up Noel’s mother, married her, and brought her and her son Noel, who was nine at the time, to Canada.
Noel recalls the most grueling nine-day Atlantic crossing on an old ship, RMS Scythia, which had been used as a troop carrier during the Second World War.
“It was an old tub. It’s a wonder that we got across. It was the rockiest crossing. It was so stormy. My mother and I were seasick for seven days,” said Noel.
They arrived in Creemore in the fall, when the colourful leaves were at their full splendour. Noel recalls his mother remarking on the “beautiful avenue” as they entered the village.
“Within two weeks, there was three feet of snow. She says, ‘Oh my god, where in the hell did we come to?’” recalls Noel.
He helped a lot in the store from the beginning, along with his mom.
“It was quite a change for her. She went from selling crystal chandeliers to selling meat,” said Noel, laughing. “Love is blind. You do a lot of new things in life for love.”
Jerry later purchased the adjacent house that had once housed a laundry business (which was later torn down) and the apartment building next door, which was later expanded.
In 1963, a young Noel took over from his father, when his parents decided to retire.
He expanded the butcher shop into a fullfledged grocery store. Noel said customers would come in for the meat, and be able to do a full shop. For a time, it was operating as a Lucky Dollar Foods store, a National Grocers affiliate.
“By joining the National Grocers team we got better pricing and better buying power for our grocery department,” said Noel.
He said the grocery did very well because it was very competitive with the IGA, when it was in operation. As an example, they would have pork roasts on for 99 cents a pound and Noel would have the same thing on for 89 cents a pound,” he said, laughing. “I was pretty sharp with my advertising and you got to know, ‘Wait until Noel has it on sale. He’ll have it cheaper.’”
He said he is very grateful to his long-time and faithful employee Darlene Curran.
She was there from the beginning, until he retired.
He remembers when they had a huge candy section, and the kids would line up.
“The mothers all liked to come to the Meat Market to shop because the kids could stand up at the front and Darlene would pitch out the candy,” said Noel, adding she would reinforce good manners, making sure they said please and thank you.
Noel retired as the local butcher in 2011, and devoted the next several years to Hillview Cellars Winery. Many years ago, he built a home on the property on Collingwood Street, where the abattoir once stood. Noel said he will ride out his retirement there with his partner Brent.