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'This is not a lumber mill,' Sault business owner chuckles (4 photos)

One of Sault Ste. Marie’s oldest businesses is this week’s Mid-Week Mugging

“There are still people who think, amazingly, this is a lumber mill,” chuckled Jim Shaw, Shaw Milling Ltd. president and CEO.

Shaw Milling, established in 1902, is one of Sault Ste. Marie’s oldest businesses.

The store started off as a flour supplier for baking needs, then diversified over the years to include grass seed and fertilizers, vegetable and flower seeds, soils, landscaping products, bird seed and bird feeders, a variety of feeds for pets and farm animals, ice melting products for winter, summer dust control products and more.

As with any long-standing family business, there is a lot about Shaw Milling to capture the interest of Sault history buffs.

“My grandfather came from Thessalon and started the business on the corner of London and Gore Streets in a building there, then we moved here to Bruce Street in 1939,” Jim said as we dropped by with complementary SooToday coffee mugs.

“The building was owned by Marathon Realty at the time, and they owned a lot of the property in the Sault on both sides of the railroad tracks,” Jim said.  

Shaw Milling already owned the building it operated from on Bruce, but then bought the land surrounding the building in the 1970s after Marathon started selling off its properties.

“This particular building has quite a history. It used to be the barn that housed the horses that plowed the roads for the town, when the Sault was just a town in the 1800s,” Jim told us.

Shaw Milling founder Jim Shaw, Jim’s grandfather, served as Mayor of Steelton in the early 20th century.

A photograph of the elder Jim Shaw, featured in a Toronto World newspaper article from Feb. 1907, hangs on Jim’s office wall.

The caption in the photograph describes Shaw as “one of the brightest young businessmen in Algoma.”

“He was quite the fellow. He went to the Brier three times (then known as the McDonald Brier, and Shaw was also a winner of the Sault Bonspiel), and he was the first district governor of Rotary International from Canada (awarded the key to the city in Grand Rapids, Michigan),” Jim said.

Norm Shaw, son of the business founder, served as the Sault Ste. Marie Golf Club president and was instrumental in expanding the course from nine to 18 holes.

Noting the changes over the years, Jim said “the Bruce Street area has changed quite substantially. The old fire hall’s gone, the old school is there but not as a school (on Wellington Street, now known as The TECH), Canada Packers were across the street, there was a gas station on the corner… we’re still here as a business because we do our best for people and offer good service and advice.”

Plaques on the store’s wall include certificates of appreciation from the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce, and, as a good corporate citizen, Shaw Milling has donated to ARCH, the Canadian Red Cross, Scouts Canada, and was a sponsor of the no-longer-running Great Tugboat Race.

“I like dealing with people,” Jim said, adding he likes to spot business trends and keep up with them.

“We were the first people in the Sault to carry wood pellets, as well as peat moss.”

Shaw Milling has become well known not only in the Sault, but also in surrounding communities.

“Really, there isn’t a day goes by that we don’t get someone from Wawa, Elliot Lake, Dubreuilville, White River… we have a lot of loyal wholesale and retail customers. Service is the key, along with good products.”

Appreciative of the fact he is part of a family business and tradition, Jim said “once you’ve worked for yourself for a period of time it would be hard to work for someone else, I would think. I’ve never tried that.”