It’s the name of my blog. I wish I could say that I was original and thought up the name myself but that’s not the case. Thymewood was the name of a gift shop that my parents owned when I was a young child. I loved “the shop” as we called it and hung around there a lot.
Knowing that childhood memories aren’t particularly reliable, I recently sat down with my dad to learn more about Thymewood. My mom chimed into the conversation a couple of times as well.
My parents weren’t the original owners of Thymewood. In 1953, Tom and Peg Lothian opened the gift shop on the Bayshore Road in Stanhope, P.E.I. The shop featured quality handcrafts from the four Atlantic provinces (for my non-Canadian readers, this would be Prince Edward Island [P.E.I.], Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland) and was modelled on a well-known gift shop located in Baddeck, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (Dad couldn’t remember the name but maybe The Tartan) and The Teazer in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.
The Lothians chose the name Thymewood because of the wild thyme that grows to this day along the Bayshore Road and the fact that the shop was in the woods.
In 1959, Tom and Peg opened a second shop in Cavendish – “Anne of Green Gables land” – called the Handcraft Cottage. It was located at the main Cavendish intersection on the site of the former Royal Atlantic Wax Museum. Islanders of my generation and older would remember the wax museum well.
During the summers of 1960 and 1961, Dad worked six days a week at the Handcraft Cottage. The rest of the time, he was a teacher.
At the end of the 1961 season, the Lothians moved the Handcraft Cottage to Stanhope and annexed it to the existing Thymewood shop where they continued to operate for two more years. Tom later regretted that move after he saw the tourist industry expansion in Cavendish and the fact that he had been sitting on a prime piece of real estate.
Because the Handcraft Cottage was no longer operating, Dad didn’t work for the Lothians at the beginning of the 1962 summer season. Instead, two other people were hired to work at the expanded Thymewood shop in Stanhope; however, they weren’t working out, so in late July of that year, Tom asked Dad if he’d work the rest of the season. Dad agreed.
After the 1962 summer season, Tom and Peg decided to take the summer off, so Dad, home from Mount Allison University where he was studying for his BA, ran the shop for them along with some other hired help.
In the fall of 1963, my parents bought Thymewood with the agreement to operate on the same location for the 1964 and 1965 summer seasons after which they would move the building to another location, which turned out to be the East Stanhope Road where we lived.
During the first two seasons my parents owned Thymewood, the sales revenue went to the Lothians to pay for the stock, and at the end of the 1965 season, they payed them $4000 to cover off the remaining balance (in 2019 dollars, that would be around $35,000). Essentially, they got the building for nothing but had to incur the cost of having it moved.
By this time, the shop was open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., June to September.
In 1967, my parents added an extension to the north side of the shop to meet the demands of the growing tourist industry. In 1968, they added a small museum in a separate building next to the shop. This turned out to be a bad business decision because the museum didn’t generate the interest my dad expected so they closed the museum at the end of the 1969 season. In 1970, well-known Island businessman Harry MacLauchlan bought the museum building. He was rushing to open the Stanhope Golf & Country Club in time for the upcoming bicentennial celebrations and needed a club house. The former museum fit the bill.
Over the years my parents ran Thymewood, the shop continued to feature quality handcrafts from the Atlantic Region: pottery, weaving, hooked rugs, quilts, wood turning and wood carving, knitting, crocheting, model ships, wrought iron, Cheticamp hooking, cottage crafts, and leather products. From the Canadian Arctic Producers Co-op there was soapstone, sealskin products, and prints, and from the Craft Division of Indian Affairs there was clothing, ornamental birchbark canoes and teepees, and prints. The shop also featured Island tartan products like blankets, scarves and tea cups.
The shop also housed a small bookstore which featured select titles including all of the L.M. Montgomery books that were in print. Many of the local tourists stocked up on their summer reading from the selection of quality paperbacks.
Thymewood also sold gourmet candies and jam from Britain. A customer (and my) favourite was Blackpool rock candy in peppermint and humbug flavours.
The rock candy was in stick form with Thymewood printed in the centre. I forget how often I was allowed to have rock candy, but I know I tried to cajole my grandmother into giving me some every day. Dad said that the candy and books alone generated a sizable revenue.
When my parents owned Thymewood, Dad worked there full-time during the summer. It’s funny, but for all the time I spent at the shop, I can’t remember him being there. Mom worked shifts for a couple of summers, and my grandmother worked there for five summers. A couple of my aunts also worked at the shop as well as another half dozen or so different people at various times.
Most of the shop’s advertising budget went toward printed maps of P.E.I.’s North Shore area from Cavendish to Grand Tracadie. Of course, Thymewood figured prominently on the maps, but other local businesses and accommodations were featured so proprietors readily displayed and distributed “the Thymewood maps” as they were called.
One of my favourite Thymewood memories was the pony rides which ran from 1967 (the year I was born) to 1975. In those years, there were a few ponies that were used for the rides, but the two that were used the most, and the ones I remember, were Cross and Mayflower. Cross was black and white, and had a white marking between her eyes in the shape of a cross. Mayflower was black. She had a sway back so she was easier to sit on when riding bare back. For the pony rides, however, both ponies were saddled up.
A couple of local boys ran the pony rides in the beginning, but when my two brothers were old enough, they took over. The ride cost 25 cents and lasted about 15 minutes. The trail wound around our property and through the woods. Along the route, riders got to see ornamental poultry, geese, goats, and other ponies we had in the field.
I have vivid memories of hanging around the pony rides, riding, and leading kids even older than me around the trail. For those kids who were afraid to go on the trail, we led them around the yard. I even used to help saddle the ponies, but my brothers would have to do a last check to make sure the saddle straps were tight enough.
In the early years, Thymewood was one of only five or six craft shops on the Island so business was brisk. However, by 1974, there were over eighty outlets across the Island selling souvenir items and handcrafts. At the same time, the tourist industry was promoting P.E.I. as a family destination so the average tourist was not as affluent as in earlier years. Dad said that in 1961, everyone who came into Thymewood bought something. By 1975, there were 25 lookers for every purchaser.
With the demand for quality handcrafts on the decline, my parents closed Thymewood after the 1975 tourist season. There would be a resurgence in the Island handcraft industry in the later 1970’s and 1980’s, but by that time, my parents had moved on from the gift shop business. Also, Stanhope was no longer a hub of tourist activity, having been overtaken by the more popular Cavendish.
Although I was only eight years old when Thymewood closed its doors for the last time, I remember how sad I was. I had dreamed of working there when I got older, and now I wouldn’t have the chance. The few times my grandmother let me sit behind the counter and put customers’ purchases in bags would have to do.
Not long after they closed Thymewood, my parents sold their property to Parks Canada.
For many years, Thymewood sat empty. In the 1990’s, Parks Canada tore down the building which, by then, had fallen into disrepair.
Sadly, my family has no pictures of Thymewood because we lost our home in a fire in 1979, so although I remember well what it looked like, inside and out, I don’t have a photo of the shop that meant so much to me to show my children.
My parents sold their home in Stanhope a few years ago, so I rarely visit my childhood community. However, any time I am out that way, I always glance at the vacant lot where Thymewood used to stand and imagine five-year-old me riding ponies and eating my beloved rock candy.
Today, I honour Thymewood by using its name for my blog. I like to think that in some way, I’m offering my beloved childhood haunt a bit of immortality.