Clare Coleman is one of two local teens bound for Ottawa this fall, as part of the 2017 Young Citizens video contest. The competition is entwined with the annual NL Heritage Fairs, and it challenged youth to shoot a news-style video that profiled local history and culture. Clare explored the story of her family business: Coleman’s Grocery.
Clare’s video touches on the importance of local entrepreneurs to the economy, the rewards of innovative ideas, and “how the actions of a thief led to the beginning of my family’s business.”
One day in 1934, a plumber named Arthur James Coleman was driving home after a day’s work, and his car broke down. When he returned to it the next morning, he discovered someone had stolen the tools of his trade. Arthur packed up his family and some livestock, and moved from Glace Bay to Corner Brook, where he set up a small convenience store. It was the beginning of an innovative empire.
By the summer of 1950, the Coleman family started seizing opportunities and offering services no one had yet offered in Newfoundland. They opened the first self-service concept grocery store (so customers could browse aisles of groceries and choose what they’d like to buy, as we do these days).
A second store followed, and they started offering to deliver groceries in a horse and carriage – something no one else was offering at this time.
Such innovative new services helped Coleman’s catch on and expand across the island in the 60s and 70s to places like Bay Roberts and St. John’s. During this time, they moved into the restaurant, wholesale, and clothing industries as well.
According to Clare, outside of national chains like Sobeys and Dominion, Colemans remains the largest independent wholesale food operator in Atlantic Canada. Something she recognizes the significance of, given the unique struggles an island faces in importing and distributing food for its people.
“When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 it was a very poor province,” she says, “yet people such as Arthur and Maggie Coleman still saw an opportunity in a small town in Western Newfoundland. With a population of a little over 1000 in 1934, there was opportunity for entrepreneurs to provide products and services that did not exist at the time.”
Through her project for Young Citizens 2017, Clare says, “I’ve learned that Canada’s economy was founded primarily by entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs have helped to shape the face of Canadian business and our way of life. My ancestors and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and of Canada are very generous in their work ethic, and in their optimism for the future.”
Clare will attend Canada’s History Society’s National Youth Forum this fall, “for a whirlwind tour of the nation’s capital” and to join 24 other students from across the country to explore what heritage means to today’s youth.