By RENE J. ROY
MILLVILLE – If you could pick one thing that seems to be constant in the Codroy Valley, it would be either bad roads, great views, or Hockey Gale’s. The store has been there longer than you might think, and it seems it will be there for a lot longer yet.
Edwin “Hockey” Gale is the current owner and namesake of the venerable mainstay, and he remembers a lot about the history of the shop.
“My grandfather, Alex Gale, started it way back. I’m told it was 1893, but I can’t be sure,” says Hockey. “Anyway, he was a fisherman – they were all fishermen back then – and he moved in from the coast, from places like Net Cove and Capelin Cove. They moved in here and he started a carding mill and a small general store.”
If you don’t know what a carding mill is either, then don’t worry. Hockey knows all about that too.
“A carding mill is where they card (disentangle) the sheep’s wool. That building is actually still right next door to the store, and we still call it the mill of course, and there’s still some equipment in there from when they carded the wool. The wool used to get sent in here from everywhere, 24 hours a day, from all over Newfoundland, PEI, Nova Scotia, everywhere.”
The carding mill was a busy spot right up until the late 40s, and eventually shuttered its doors in the early 50s when yarn became easier to process. But the general store kept on going.
Shortly after the carding mill opened over 125 years ago, Alex opened a small general store right beside it.
“Everything was barter back then of course, trade and whatnot,” explains Hockey. “There wasn’t a lot of cash on the go I don’t think.”
His grandfather was married three times, and as Hockey recalls it, all 16 of his children worked in the carding mill at one point or another.
“My father was the youngest of all the eight boys, so I guess that’s why he’s the one who took over the store,” says Hockey.
Wallace Gale, Hockey’s father, stepped down in 1980, after running the general store for about forty years. He was the second Gale man to have control of the family shop, in what appears to have organically become a tradition of passing the store from one generation to the next. Hockey’s youngest son, Gerard, is the next in line to take over the store. He has already begun to make some changes, and is learning just how much is involved in keeping the old place running.
“I actually just moved home about 5 months ago, from Halifax,” says Gerard.
With a background in advertising, Gerard figures that he should be able to institute a number of modernizations to Hockey’s, but the name wont be one of them.
“We aren’t changing the name,” he laughs. “It’s going to stay Hockey’s.”
But it hasn’t always been known as that either. What was built by Alex in 1893 was known as Millville Stores. Once Wallace took over, at about the age of about 27, he phased out the carding mill gradually, and actually tore the whole store down in 1960. It was moved next to the highway, where a couple of stores are currently in operation.
“Dad built the store over there on the highway in 1956 and sold cars until 1969,” recalls Hockey.
“He sold that store then, and was going to retire, and there was a little store here, right exactly where the old store was, so he bought that in 1970. It was a small, tiny little store, and we’ve been picking at it ever since.”
Indeed, Gales isn’t such a tiny place anymore. The now sprawling general store has gone through numerous changes, renovations, and upgrades for the past 50 years.
“I started there when I was 15, you know, after school, and I’m just kind of getting out of it a little bit now,” offers Hockey.
When Wall, as Wallace was known, purchased the confectionery store in 1970, he renamed the shop to Wallace J. Gale and Son.
“I was the son,” laughs Hockey. “And then in 1980 we changed it to E.W. Gale Ltd.”
The nickname that Edwin Wallace Joseph Gale has carried with him his whole life has very little to do with the sport, and more to do with his demeanor as a young lad. He laughs heartily at the memory of getting saddled with the moniker.
“My father used to call me Hack, because I used to cry a good bit when I was really small, and my sister turned it into Hockey, probably cause of her accent. And it stuck ever since.”
From 1980 onward, the store has been known throughout the Codroy Valley and the entire Southwest Coast region simply as Hockey’s. He has run it successfully for the better part of 40 years, much like his father and his grandfather before him.
Hockey’s goal was to become a broad grocery store, branching out into hardware and tools. He accomplished that and more, even selling snowmobiles in the shop for 13 years. But one of the most famous incidents in Gale’s history had nothing to do with sales.
“I had Dan in there one time,” laughs Hockey. “Dan was my big old Clydesdale. He was so gentle though, just amazing.”
Hockey admits to a rough and rowdy streak back in his day, and that prompted him to bring the enormous horse into his store. He says the prank was purely, “For badness…just brought him in to scare the girls!”
At 29, Gerard is thus far showing little evidence he possesses that little streak of badness his father once had. A friendly, sociable man, he says he got the idea last year to, “Leave the big city behind, and move back to see what this life had to offer.”
He hadn’t really considered taking over the store until his father was interviewed last year by CBC about the old mill, when Hockey said the store would likely end with him.
“Yeah, I just asked Mom and Dad if they’d be interested in passing the store along, and how would we could go about that, and they were super psyched.”
Gerard looks around and sums up his impression of the store.
“A little bit of everything. I mean, when you’re a general store in rural Newfoundland, you kind of have to have a little bit of everything to suit everyone’s needs.”
He admits it’s a steep learning curve, but concedes that having his father so handy to step in with advice borne from decades of experience is a great help.
“There’s a lot of things for me to learn, since I’ve moved home, like so much, but in terms of actual performance of the store, I think having a little injection of new life is going to go a long way.”
What changes he foresees won’t detract at all from his father’s legacy either. If anything, he hopes to bring it more to the forefront.
“I don’t want to do a complete overhaul, and lose the charm thats been brewing forever,” says Gerard.
“The name of the store, people around here call it Hockey’s, and I love that it came from the community. So we are sort of adopting it, and I’ve come up with a logo, hats, shirts, stickers, and I just think it’s such a good way to lean into the Hockey name.”
But it’s only natural that he does want to tweak some things. He’s already made his mark on the venerable shop, bringing in fresh produce and replacing the old open panel coolers that had been in use since the mid 80s.
“We got rid of it because they weren’t working great, and it was a bit of an eyesore, so I brought in those three coolers, and I think that was the biggest indicator of change.”
He aims to lean more heavily into fresh foods, such as avocados, asparagus, and other regional goods.
“We plan on sourcing local for sure.”
They currently sell coffee from a local roastery, made right next door in fact, as well as locally made soaps, and these are already proving to be a hit with customers.
“I think that’s the way we need to go,” says Gerard. “Kind of become a celebration of the community, and I think that’s one way we can stay relevant and compete.”
Gerard relies heavily on the staff of the store, some of whom have been there for around 30 years.
“For me to just come in and call myself the manager, versus those ladies who know so much, I’m still learning. They know way more than I do. But I can come in and make tweaks, with the aesthetics, sort of the look of the store, I can make those changes.”
After about 128 years of Gale’s store, with each of the previous owners running the place for roughly 40 years, it seems like Gerard will have plenty of time to learn the ropes and pave the way for the next generation to follow.