Helping families survive tough times
“If John Forgo didn’t give our family credit for groceries, we’d have starved!”
So said Drumheller resident Bill Schaffer about his mother buying groceries from John Forgo at North Drum Grocery over the years.
John gave credit to dozens, if not hundreds of customers, mainly families who either had little or no money during the late 1940s and 50s, or if the coal mines weren’t working, the breadwinner, usually the father, couldn’t pay.
John’s wife Irene, now in her early 90s, remembers those days, and how tough they were for her and John, just starting out.
“John was just out of the Army after 4 1/2 years in 1946, and working at Calgary Brewing and Malting, when one Sunday, before we were married, we drove out to visit my parents in Drumheller. Out for a drive, I remember my mother saying this grocery store was for sale, and would be a good opportunity for you”, Irene told this reporter.
The store had fresh fruits and vegetables, a full meat counter, and was open 6 days a week. It was located on the north side of what is now the Gordon Taylor Bridge, in the building currently owned by the Bridge Greek Restaurant.
We had some wonderful staff over the years, Ruth Soper, Angie Butt, and Anna McLean worked the front counter and Louis Lengel, who always had a twinkle in his eye, would come in and cut meat when John needed a break”, Irene continued.
Schaffer couldn’t say enough about how generous Forgo was to their family. “I remember one time my mom was embarrassed to go in for groceries, I think we owed $90, couldn’t pay, but John told her to come in and get whatever she wanted, that he knew he would get paid when my dad had some money”
And so families.
Barb and Bud Campbell lived in North Drumheller and always had an account at the store.
“Whenever we would go in and pay the grocery bill, John would allow the kids to each take a penny candy. We always had an account there”, she told the Mail. She recalled that when the weather turned cold, John would always open up the store early so the kids could keep warm while waiting for the school bus that stopped outside his front door. it was for a lot of
It wasn’t long after they bought the store that it was flooded out in 1948.
“We lost everything in the basement, and the water was up to the windows on the main floor”, Irene said, “and nobody had any insurance”.
Irene was the accountant, and was also busy raising three boys, Jim, Steve and Mike. She took a dim view of John’s credit practices, but blamed John’s engaging personality to make the business grow. “I called him the “lucky jackass”, because he was a good man and took people at their word they would eventually pay, and most did.”
Ossie Sheddy Sr. tried for years to get John to advertise his specials in er Mail, and John refused, mainly because he didn’t think he could afford to pay for the ad. Ossie finally convinced John to put bologna on sale for 25c a pound, and if he didn’t sell enough to pay for the ad, it was free. Turned out that John sold out of bologna that week, and he became a regular advertiser after that with a weekly ad.
Longtime Drumheller businessman John Kohut Sr. remembers Forgo as a very generous man to his customers, and started delivering freight there when Hi-Way 9 Express started in 1969. But John’s recollection went back even further. John’s father, also named John, helped Forgo in the grocery business, as Kohut Sr. ran another grocery store in Midland.
“My dad and John butchered and cut beef together,” John said, “and those guys in those days gave a lot of people credit on their groceries, carried families all summer long when the mines were not working, and then when the men went back to work in the fall and winter, they would eventually get paid”.
John enjoyed curling in the winter, but family vacations were out of the question because the store needed so much attention. Because the grocery wholesaler they used was Associated Grocers, the only holiday John and Irene had for many years was at the company general meeting held every spring in Radium, BC.
Occasionally, John would entertain friends and family by playing the cimbalon, a large, trapezoidal box with metal strings stretched across the top. It was a difficult instrument to play, but when he did, it brought back memories of his younger days, growing up in a Hungarian family.
North Drum Grocery, or, affectionately sometimes called Johnnie’s Grocery, was sold in the mid-1980s, and John passed away in 1992, at age 70. Irene is still active, enjoys playing bridge, still drives, regularly attends St. Anthony’s Church, and has a host of good friends.
“People still come up to me and love to tell stories about the grocery, and remembering the kindnesses John gave to them.”
Couldn’t write a history of North Drum Grocery without mentioning Wayne Jewell, the notorious delivery boy. He had the biggest smile, the best duck tail haircut and drove the delivery van so fast, he had them delivered before the ice cream got soft.