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Garages and Gas Stations

Black-and-white image of vintage cars parked in front of gas pumps with stone building in background

J.B. Oliver’s Service Station, Rosedale, ca. 1942

As the private automobile grew in popularity throughout the 1910s and 1920s, demand went up for facilities in which cars could be serviced. Enterprising individuals, who might already have owned a blacksmith shop or a general store, saw the wisdom in diversifying by adding a garage and a gas pump to their businesses. Others built new service stations that dealt only in making repairs to sometimes cantankerous cars, and selling gasoline to increasingly long lines of traffic.

Archival document printed in blue ink and marked up with pencil

Statement of Account, Brentnell’s Garage, Victoria Road, 1930

The “golden age” of the independently owned-and-operated service station in northwestern Kawartha Lakes lasted from the 1920s through the early 1970s. Numbering among the proprietors of these businesses were H. Brentnell (Victoria Road), the Callan family (Coboconk),V.G. Dunn (Kirkfield), W. McGregor (Kirkfield), L. Moore (Coboconk), J.H. Oliver (Rosedale), and E.E. Valentine (Norland).


Garages and gas stations of the mid-twentieth century varied in appearance. Early service stations were often built from wood and had hip or gambrel roofs. Following the Second World War, service stations were usually constructed of concrete blocks and sported flat rooflines. Meanwhile, J.H. Oliver’s Shell station in Rosedale evoked the rustic landscape of northwestern Kawartha Lakes with its fieldstone construction.

Signage advertising everything from Coca-Cola to Sweet Caporal cigarettes decorated the exteriors of these buildings. A pair of glass gas pumps typically towered in front of the service stations, while a one or two-bay garage handled tire and oil changes. At McGregor’s garage in downtown Kirkfield, local men gathered around a woodstove in the service bay to share stories.

Black-and-white image of two people in front of a gas pump with large wooden building in background

Shell Station, Coboconk, ca. 1950

Black-and-white image of woman in white dress carrying two pies in front of vintage car

Alta Oliver With her Homemade Pies, ca. 1940s

The families who ran these garages and gas stations are remembered for their hospitable and entrepreneurial spirit. “Grandma baked pies and sold them to tourists from the gas station,” remembers Linda Oliver of her grandparents’ service station in Rosedale. “It became a routine stop for many travelling north, and if you didn’t get there early you would be disappointed that she sold out!”


Black-and-white image of young woman in uniform and older man standing in front of vintage gasoline pump

Marg Valentine (née Moore) and Bill Simpson at Moore’s Service Station, Coboconk, ca. 1940s

While these stories paint an idyllic picture of the roadside garage and gas station, those who ran them knew that the job consisted of working long hours in sometimes less than ideal circumstances. Proprietors were occasionally the victims of petty theft and robbery. Garage owners were also at the mercy of fluctuating gas prices, and the oil crisis of the early 1970s put many out of business.

Margaret Valentine remembers her family’s service station. Enjoy this video clip with an English transcript.

For generations of tourists, though, the service station was a memorable and essential part of their journey into northwestern Kawartha Lakes.

Colour image of gas pump, planters, and garbage receptacle with shrubs and trees in background

Gas Pump, Balsam Lake Park Store, 2021