International Womens Day: Rachel Swedlove

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One of the outstanding women in the history of North Grenville was Rachel Swedlove, who fled Riga, Latvia as a teenager dreaming of a life without oppression. She moved to Markham, Ontario and eventually settled in Stouffville, Ontario with her husband, Zelig. They opened the “Swedlove Wicker Factory”.  Their baskets were all hand woven. Unable to compete with machines, they closed the factory and moved to New Lisgard, Ontario, where they started a ladies’ and men’s wear store. They lived in an apartment with their three children directly above their small store. When the building caught fire in 1929, Zelig helped Rachel out the window to the second floor to fetch a ladder. She intended to bring the ladder to the upstairs window so everyone could climb down to safety. Unfortunately, she broke both her legs during the fall. Her younger children were thrown out the window to safety. Zelig took a moment to check that everyone was out safely. The floor gave way and he perished in the fire.

When she was able to literally “get back on her feet”, Mrs Swedlove moved her family to Kemptville. Her brother-in-law, Sam Swedlove, owned a general store (currently Panache on Clothier street). Sam wanted to move to Ottawa and sold his store to Rachel in 1933. She lived above this store with her children. She raised her family and grew her business. By the time her children were old enough to work at the store, she had acquired some extra space next door (now Kemptville Fabric Shoppe and Benson Auto Parts). She branched out into the furniture and appliance retail business. When Dan O’Neill’s hotel  (now O’Heaphy’s Pub) went out of business due to prohibition, she purchased that property as well. They further expanded by building more space behind the store (now Ontario Early Years). Her empire grew from a simple United Farmers of Ontario supplies store to a 20,000 sq. ft. retail space with 37 employees. They even had their own service and credit departments (an early version of today’s co-ops).

Her hobby was helping poor people. If you were lucky enough to meet her, you never forgot her. She would go to poor sections of the neighbourhood at Christmas time and deliver parcels with food, dresses and shoes. She also had Christmas parties where everyone was welcome, but it was mostly the families she helped who came and enjoyed a good meal and a great time. Nurses would sometimes drop by the store and mention that a family was struggling. This was enough for Mrs Swedlove to pay them a visit. 

When the war ended, Mrs Swedlove held a huge party for the soldiers. She rented the Odd Fellows Hall and hired an orchestra. There was plenty of food for everyone. It was her way of saying: “Welcome Home!

 

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