© Alun Hughes 2003
The Steadman Story
By Alun Hughes
My previous columns on Thorold's past have proceeded
chronologically as far as the late eighteenth century, but the article
in last week's Thorold News about Roy Steadman selling his jewellery
store requires a change in plan. This is a significant milestone in
Thorold commercial history, for the business of O. R. Steadman &
Son has been in family hands for over 90 years and has its origins
Join me, therefore, on a quick leap forward in time to the early twentieth
century, specifically to 1912, when Roy's father arrived in Thorold.
The elder Steadman - his initials O. R. stood for Olver Roy, and the
spelling IS correct - was born in Wyoming near Sarnia in 1886. Resisting
the temptation to become an undertaker like three of his five brothers,
he first worked with the Royal Bank in Thessalon. A year later he
returned home to apprentice with a watchmaker in Petrolia, and then
attended the Canadian Horological School in Toronto, graduating in
He worked as a watchmaker in Sudbury before moving to Thorold in September
1912 to become store manager for Wendell W. Walton, a jeweller and
watchmaker on Front Street. With the opening of the Ontario Paper
Company and construction of the Fourth Welland Canal, Thorold appeared
set to boom, and Steadman bought out Walton in May 1913 (though canny
fellow that he was, he made sure Walton signed an agreement not to
open a competing store in Thorold for at least five years, subject
to a penalty if he reneged).
The Steadman store did much more than sell and repair jewellery and
timepieces. Like others of its kind, it also handled gramophones,
records, giftware and cameras, developed film and, before government
got in on the act, issued marriage licenses. In addition, Olver himself,
having taken a course in optometry from F. W. Mayor of the Toronto
College of Opthalmology, carried out eye testing and prescribed glasses.
Later, Al Swayze from Niagara Falls did testing on a weekly basis.
Two other store employees were Railton Turner and Steadman's brother-in-law
Norval Bye (Olver had married Hazel Bye in 1915). When the Depression
hit, Bye left to become Tax Collector for the Town of Thorold and
eventually attained the position of Clerk. One hopes he was not too
tough on his former boss the yearSteadman's fell into arrears, for
the Depression era was hard on everybody. During the thirties, Olver's
son Blake also worked for him.
Advertisement which appeared in The Thorold Post, 1916.
Olver Steadman had many interests. He served as School Board Trustee
for almost 40 years, he was an active member of the Masonic Order
and Trinity Methodist Church (and often played bowls on the greens
behind the building), and was made a Life Member of the Thorold Board
In the thirties, he and four partners established the Niagara District
Forwarding Company in a canal warehouse across from the McCleary Dock,
dealing mainly in canned fruit. The Company also commenced motor tours
of the canal for visitors, but the venture was not successful, possibly
because it was ahead of its time.
Steadman's has not always been in its present location at 29 Front
Street South. The original store was probably across the road at 24B
where Cricket's Cupboard used to be. In 1915, it moved to the O'Donnell
Block, a single-storey building on the site of the old Bank of Commerce
at Front and Albert, and in 1919, following a year in temporary accommodation
at 27 Front, it settled in at number 29. The building formerly housed
the Imperial Bank (and possibly the Bank of Commerce too), and the
original walk-in vault , built by the Featherstone Safe Co. of Hamilton,
is still there in the back room.
In 1922, Steadman installed a new facade with Vermont marble and leaded
windows, and purchased the beautiful display cases that still grace
the interior. Like other jewellery stores of the period, it was provided
with two show windows, one to display merchandise, and one for the
watchmaker to work in by daylight.
When Olver Steadman bought out Walton in 1913, he became part of a
continuous thread of jewellers/watchmakers extending back half a century.
The business was first operated by John Schaaf in the 1860s, and went
through a dozen owners before acquiring the mantle of Steadman. There
were other jewellers in town also, and sometimes the competition between
them was little short of cutthroat.
Many were newsworthy in their own right. Culverhouse called his store the
"Palace de Jewels," Price ran afoul of the law with a misguided
promotional scheme, Hansell left Thorold to become a medium in California,
Smith owned the first motor car in Niagara, Jones ("the restless
and sleepless") established the Cannon Ball Bicycle Factory,
McGeachie exhorted his male customers to "get the ring first,
and then hunt up a to fit it,"and Parkes shot an unarmed
intruder in broad daylight. Interestingly enough, Olver Steadman kept
a shotgun and revolver behind the counter, but though he was robbed
more than once, never used them.
In 1944, Olver suffered a heart attack, and his son Roy (who kindly
provided many personal details for this column) started working full-time
at the store. He later became a partner, and following his father's
in 1965, the sole owner.
Throughout the twentieth century, the business was challenged by many
local competitors - the names Armbrust, Cowles, Neale, Spetko and
Wood come to mind - but it has outlasted them all and provided exemplary
service to the Thorold community. I wish the new owner, Ken Atmekjian,
every success in perpetuating the honorable tradition of O. R. Steadman
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