My Mother’s Scrapbook: Berrigan’s Store at West River


Record book in our archives showing purchases from 1919 to 1922.

The following is a clipping from Hazel Beer’s scrapbook that offers a detailed description of Berrigan’s store and the flow of commerce at West River. As part of our archives, we now have two record books from the store which lists prices and items purchased by customers from the area.

Guardian Clipping from 1973, from Walter O’Brien’s “Bristol Notes” – Wandering along the winding trail, seeking news for you, we visited James Berrigan’s old store at West River to see this old sight, where his late father John Berrigan, started a business away back in 1887, 86 years ago. There are no packages, no cartons, everything in bulk, molasses came in 90-gallon puncheons, sugar in 200 pound barrels, soda in 20 pound casks. Lard and butter, the same; there was no shortening then for shortening bread.

Mr. Berrigan, along with operating the store, also drove a peddling wagon that was selling groceries around the countryside four days a week and the bulk goods had to be weighed on the old scales during the night hours to be ready for the morning start. The long express-style wagon had a big rack on the roof to hold eight or ten egg cases as there was very little cash in that long ago time and the store man took eggs in trade along with meat, hens or whatever this farmer had to offer for his grocery order. The prices were sure sky high, eggs at eighteen cents a dozen, potatoes 25 cents a bushel, butter 20 cents a pound, twist tobacco was 4 cents a fig. Other smoking tobacco came in solid plugs and the old hand cutter that was used to cut it apart can still be seen in this old store, along with many articles sold in that long ago time. This old store closed its doors ten years ago, but a lot of old stock still remains on the shelves.

Those big wide shelves you can still see liniment, horse salve, harness soap, casteria for babies, caster oil for adults and kids, other old patent medicines. The first safety razors that came out selling for 45 cents, some of them are still on the shelves, along with tea that came in bulk and was bagged in the store. This was all before the West River causeway was ever thought of, days when everything came up the river in schooners, as many as fifteen would be tied up at the wharf at one time, loading and unloading.

An old ship, called the City of London, was used to take people up and down the river from Charlottetown, east and west, before The Harland was built. The Harland came later and was a busy ship. It went east to Scotchfort and west to Victoria loaded with horse-drawn wagons and sightseers. The City of London came here to carry on this summer travel in 1902; and “The Old Harland”, as she was called, came in 1908 and made her last run in 1939. It was a sad day and a sad idea, Mr. Berrigan told us when that causeway was put there, if the ship was there today, hundreds of summer tourists along with Islanders would be traveling up and down this lovely route.

In the days of The Harland the master would sound his whistle away up the river so people in the West River district could get ready to meet the ship at the wharf when she pulled in and load her for the trip. Now, he said it almost impossible for me to get up the river to Sunday mass with my boat. If the tide is out I am left. Sometimes I have to make it hours before church time to get through that small opening. It should have been built in the wide channel with a draw bridge, then today we could have our passenger boats sailing up and down. The sights are wonderful in summer.

Other old items still in the well-known Berrigan store on this lovely site so near the shore on either sides with lovely well-kept lawns, you see sad irons used long ago, old show cases, hand made, tins of shoe polish and harness soap, 14 cents a can.

The home section that is also part of the store building, all in that long ago style, is a dream itself. Everything is just as the late Mrs. Berrigan, Jim’s mother, left it. The old style piano in the living room is one you will seldom see in this age. It’s one hundred and fifty years old and came from England. Four men could not lift it, Mr. Berrigan said. All the other furniture is old, old stuff but in first class condition. Tables, chairs, pictures, dressers all very lovely old, old stuff. There is no water taps in the kitchen, no sir, but the old pump that was put in three quarters of a century ago is there to one side, and the water is as cold and fresh as the day that pump was put down. Many of the younger folks never see an old pump. Some other day we will be back along that West River trail for more information on the past from Jim Berrigan, the owner of this lovely site and its priceless treasures.

Editor’s note:

Here are some items that were purchased and recorded in the books: Paris Green, tobacco, canned salmon, eggs, sugar, candy, cider, umbrella, work shoes, flour, blankets, caster oil, butter, pins, fish, men’s boots, khaki pants, soap, cigarettes, gum, cream of wheat, salty cakes, teapot, hen feed, ribbon, cigars, oil cake, stockings, oatmeal, bale twine…and these are only a few of the many items offered. In a follow-up article, I made a list of items from one of the two record books from July 1919 to April 1922 and there were almost 300 unique items mentioned and oftentimes purchases are just referred to groceries, dry goods or goods, so Berrigan’s was a well-stocked store.

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