Many moons ago, I was a 20-year-old university student in Toronto, knowing virtually no places except TO. And I knew this was a problem. When I noticed cards advertising a summer jobs booklet, I wrote away to any employer who lived far away. Three positions were offered. Since one was a resort in Southern Ontario, there really were two to choose from.
There was the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta and The Java Shop in Fort Macleod, Alberta. Research at my public library revealed a panoramic view of a Swiss chalet hotel standing on a hill above a long lake, with two rows of mountains framing the scene. My God. I was sold. See you around, prairie coffee shop.
Indeed I would. The bus bringing me south from Calgary made a stopover in Fort Macleod. The Java Shop doubled as the Greyhound depot. Awesome! I’d get to experience what I’d missed in choosing the PW.
I walked through the door and felt the call of nature part two. Too distracted to notice the pioneer ambiance, I highstepped to the washroom. I reached for the cubicle handle, barely noticing the box hanging beneath. The door did not open. A sign on the box said “25 cents”. What?! Pay a quarter to poop? What kind of place was this?
Girding my loins, I laid down on my back and started pulling myself under the door. What awaited my gaze was a row of metal teeth welded to the bottom edge. Oh my. Take me home, country roads.
And so The Java Shop became a joke in my memory. I thought of the place today and went to Mr. Google to see how it was doing. A 2008 article in the Macleod Gazette told all:
A Fort Macleod landmark is closed. The Java Shop served its final meals Friday after decades as a popular meeting place and destination. “I think it’s a tragedy,” long-time Fort Macleod businessman Frank Eden said. The distinctive building at the corner of Second Avenue and 23rd Street has long been a popular meeting and eating place, and home to the Greyhound depot.
On Friday customers returned to The Java Shop for a wake of sorts, to say their goodbyes and enjoy one last meal — on the house.
The Java Shop was an important part of life in Fort Macleod, cultivating its share of regulars like Chris Cheesman, the Town of Fort Macleod’s electric department superintendent. “I had my morning ritual to come here every morning to pick up my coffee and my two daily newspapers,” Cheesman said. Cheesman had another ritual associated with The Java Shop. It’s where he would bring his daughter Sara for special father-daughter meals. “Fort Macleod is kind of a hub, and The Java Shop is part of the hub,” Cheesman said. “The spokes of that hub are now shattered.” Cheesman also recalled special feelings attached with picking up Christmas packages delivered by bus, and meeting loved ones travelling on Greyhound.
Greyhound bus drivers looked upon The Java Shop as an oasis on the prairie. “Coming through Fort Macleod, this was my supper break or this was my breakfast break,” said retired driver Al Douglas, who spent 35 years behind the wheel for Greyhound. “You were dying to get here.” Drivers appreciated the warm welcome and friendly service they received. “It was great,” said retired driver Lorne Eremenko, who put in 38 years with Greyhound. “You were always treated good here.”
Eremenko: “This was so busy you wouldn’t believe it.” Added Douglas: “I can remember us having nine or ten buses lined up in the alley. You won’t see that anymore.” The two retired drivers agreed The Java Shop was a Fort Macleod landmark. “It didn’t matter where they were from,” Douglas said of his passengers. “People knew The Java Shop.”
Waitress Judy Thomas, who has worked on and off at The Java Shop for 23 years, spent Friday consoling her soon-to-be former customers, putting on a brave smile and handing out hugs. “I’m going to miss the people who come in here, even though I always gave them a hard time,” Judy, as she is known to everyone, said with a smile. “I’m going to miss the people big time.”
I would have been a Java Shop employee sixteen years before Judy arrived on the scene. I would have been part of a longstanding tradition of welcome. I would have been in the centre of the community.
But I chose elsewhere, missing out on an experience far greater than coin boxes and jagged teeth.