The general store that stands here today is a replica of a typical general store at the turn of the century. It includes many of the articles which would have actually have been found in a general store. Often the general store was the only store in town and, as the name implies, sold a wide variety of goods ranging from hardware to food items.
In pioneer Manitoba, most food needs of the locals were met from their own gardens and farms. However, they still had need of salt, pepper and other condiments, tea, coffee, sugar, baking powder and so on. Specialty items such as dried fruit for Christmas puddings and cakes could be purchased as well. Flour was often sourced locally as there were a number of small flour mills in Pioneer Manitoba which would grind a farmer’s wheat in return for a percentage of the output.
General stores sold mostly working clothes with fancier clothes usually being ordered from the catalogue. Sewing was popular and the store sold materials and sewing “notions” such as thread and buttons.
The early telephone system worked through a central switchboard often located in the general store or post office because a person was usually working there. Hence the store clerk or postmaster would also have the duties of switchboard operator.
The credit/barter system was used quite frequently in general stores. General stores often kept a ledger book with a couple of pages devoted to each family. As a purchase on credit was made, an entry was made in the family’s page debiting the family. In the fall when the harvest came in and grain was sold the pioneer family would pay off the store keeper. As well pioneers would often exchange goods instead of money as money was scarce. As a family brought in items to sell to the merchant such as butter, eggs, chickens and so on further entries were made in the ledger to record the credit. General stores would resell these items to other customers of the store or sell them to “big city” merchants.
The banking system in Pioneer Manitoba was not well developed so arrangements such as these were common and necessary to keep the economy going. Farmers often had no money coming in for long periods of time and it was always necessary to have to obtain some items such as harness, shoes, baking powder or yeast. Barter or credit arrangements such as offered by the general store were the only way to obtain items. The credit situation was one of the reasons for the famous “grain rushes” of the early years of farming on the prairies. Farmers were eager to sell grain in the fall to pay creditors and secure supplies for the upcoming winter. As well, the grain companies were eager to move grain through the Lake Head to the ocean before the Great Lakes froze for the winter.