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Long time Cobble Hill gas station closing

Donna and Keith (right) Barry and Keith’s twin Ken have lots of memories of the 90-year history of Cobble Hill’s Barry’s Garage which closes tomorrow. - Ann Andersen
Donna and Keith (right) Barry and Keith’s twin Ken have lots of memories of the 90-year history of Cobble Hill’s Barry’s Garage which closes tomorrow.
— image credit: Ann Andersen

Cobble Hill is losing a landmark. Two actually.

Gas pumps, that is.

After three generations of family ownership, the gas station at Barry's Garage in Cobble Hill will close tomorrow.

Soon, the two elderly pumps will be de-commissioned. But the village's familiar red and green automotive garage topped by a vintage British American gas sign will live on.

"It was time," says Donna Barry who with husband Keith has owned the enterprise for 22 years. "We're retiring."

Long-time employee Ian Tait mentored by Keith through a four-year apprenticeship will keep up the automotive end of the business.

Ever since Teirney Patrick Barry — known as Pat — moved his blacksmith shop from the end of Nightingale Road to the growing Cobble Hill community in 1921, gas has been pumped there.

The lone exception was when the whole complex was razed by fire in 1962 and for five years after Keith's uncle Gerry died in 1985.

"It was early Cobble Hill, and Pat had the first gas station," explains Keith.

He plucks one of many framed black and white photos from a wall in the cluttered office.

"There's Bonner's store, then a house, and here's the gas station across from the telephone office. The post office was at the end."

"At the beginning, it was Union gas, then British American, Union 76, Gulf, Petro Canada and after that we became independent," Keith adds. Before the 1962 fire, there was only one old hand pump — the tall, slim bobble-topped kind you see in really old movies.

Keith and twin brother Ken, turning 65 this year, have enduring memories of their childhood both at the old forge and at the garage.

"You can still see the old forge on Nightingale Road," observes Ken. "It's on the original family homestead."

"When we were kids we used to dig around. We found dozens of what we thought at first were half horse shoes that turned out to be ox shoes," adds Keith.

They spent a lot of time at the garage as kids and remember their "Pop" as a very kind old gentleman who taught them many life lessons.

"Until he'd had enough of us and told us to get out," laughs Ken.

Both recall his intervention when they tried to comfort a dog whose paws had been burned. And it's obvious that the lesson stayed with them.

"We learned to be very cautious around dogs that are injured."

He'd send them across the street to purchase a five-cent White Owl cigar for him.

"He'd smoke that thing all day."

Uncle Gerry Barry took over the garage in 1955. At this stage, the twins begin to laugh as they recall subsequent events in the Barry's Garage history.

Gerry's long-time girlfriend Dolly owned the store down the street.

When a kid stole a chocolate bar from her, she'd call the garage, Gerry would apprehend the young thief, sit him down on the "electric chair" and give him the "lie detector test", which consisted of three lights — red, yellow and green.

"He'd ask the kid if he'd stolen the chocolate bar, and if the kid said no, he'd use a hidden switch under the desk to light the red. Then he'd give him an electric zap from the chair as punishment," laughs Keith.

"We didn't steal chocolate bars. We knew better," adds Ken.

Gas customer "Young" Bill Motherwell overhears the anecdote.

"I remember the electric chair," he says ruefully.

Another memory is of locals gathered around the 45-gallon stove on Saturdays and of the catastrophic 1962 fire that destroyed the garage.

"Thieves broke in and used a blow torch to pierce the side of the safe, not knowing there was nothing in it and it wasn't locked," recalls Keith.

Sparks from the torch mixed with the oil on the floor, and fire broke out. There was no insurance.

"Gerry followed up on it and the thieves eventually went to jail," says Ken. He points to the walls.

"It was rebuilt — without the blacksmith's forge — using concrete block. And it's been the same layout since then."

After Gerry's death in 1985, the garage closed. Then signs began appearing on the doors.

"They said 'Please Open'", smiles Keith.

After being locked up for six years, the garage re-opened with he and Donna taking over the business.

"We kept it open six days a week, closed on Sundays, just like before," adds Donna, acknowledging the great work of her two part-time employees Darlene Woolls and Lynda Schwarz.

When a Coop gas station went in at Mill Bay two years ago, they noticed a difference: not as many customers as before.

"It lost its fun, so I decided this year to close," Donna said.

And then it's back to the laughter and the reminiscing.

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