210 Montreal Street
Montreal Street between Raglan and Charles was a lively commercial corridor for most of the twentieth century. Besides butchers, grocers, diners, and so on, there were several shoe repair shops and several barbers in those few blocks. In the 30s and 40s, you could get your shoes fixed by Harry Tanovich or Mike Chipizak, and Orry Orr or Spider Clark would give you a shave and a haircut. Although Blaney’s has transformed from a barbershop to a florist, it is the only family business that has survived on Montreal Street since the 1940s. Earl Blaney (b. 1917) grew up in the neighbourhood, living with his grandparents and looking after his younger siblings on Rideau Street after his father was crushed by a train engine while fixing it from below. Earl apprenticed to be a barber with Spider Clark, and later did a barbering course in Rochester NY. Not only did he work as a barber from age 16 to age 76, but Earl served as School Trustee and Alderman. His daughter Annmarie credits him with having the strap banned in the Catholic School Board, and also with standing up to predatory landlords in the neighbourhood. Megan Helsby, Earl’s wife, grew up on Hickson Avenue and worked in the woollen mill as a weaver before she married. Peter Blaney remembers that “she was very smart, she had a mind like a steel trap.”
Initially Earl and Megan lived above the shop, but they had eight children and for a time they lived in more spacious quarters in Kingston Mills. The children attended St. John’s School on Markland Street (now Mulberry School), and the Catholic church was a major part of family life as it was for most Irish families in the area. In the 1960s, the family added a beauty salon to their space to cater to women customers, and in the 1970s, they started in the florist business. As Peter Blaney recalls,
My brother Paul, he’s next to me in the birth order, just younger than me, he always had an interest in plants. He had taken some lemon seeds from a lemon in the supermarket and planted them and grew them into some pretty impressive trees. They were six, eight feet high. He seemed to have a real gift with plants. So, he went to college to study horticulture and it seemed like the logical thing for him to do was to become a florist. So we opened a flower shop.
In 2017, the fiftieth anniversary of Blaney’s, the florist was officially closed. But the door is often open and there are still flowers in the cooler. Down the street, the youngest Blaney, Kevin, runs his own flower shop, and his wife Sylvia will cut, colour and style your hair. Annmarie still cuts hair too. So it seems the Blaneys just don’t quit.
Warm thanks to Annmarie Blaney-Clarke and Kevin Blaney for photos; Peter, Kevin, Sylvia, Marilyn Blaney and Annmarie Blaney-Clarke for stories.