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Downtown stationery store was a local landmark for many years

Shopkeeper was active in promoting Orillia and its tourist trade, publishing souvenir books and postcards

Postcard Memories is a weekly series of historic postcard views and photos submitted by Marcel Rousseau. Some were previously published by the Orillia Museum of Art and History and in the book Postcard Memories Orillia. Watch for this feature every Saturday morning.

The Robert O. Smith Book & Stationery Store was established in 1897 at 56 Mississaga St. E., now the location of Rexall Pharma Plus. He had a stationery store for five years in Woodstock, Ont., before moving to Orillia at the age of 33. He also previously worked for Warwick Bros. wholesale stationers in Toronto, which later became one of Canada’s largest suppliers of postcards.

Robert carried a large inventory of books, magazines, newspapers, school and office supplies, wallpaper, toys and gifts. He sold many birch-bark novelties and baskets made by the Ojibwa from the Rama Reserve. Hundreds of postcard views of the Orillia area dated as early as 1905 can be found with the name R.O. Smith or R.O.S. CO printed on the back. It is believed that he purchased many Orillia photo views from local photographers such as G.A. Brown and Frank Stewart, a downtown neighbour, and sent them off to companies like Warwick Bros. for printing. He also wholesaled large quantities of cards and an invoice from 1911 exists showing a box of 1,000 cards selling for $5.

Robert was very active in promoting Orillia and its tourist trade. He was a pioneer in publishing early Orillia souvenir books and in 1907 partnered with the Grand Trunk Railway to publish 30,000 folders promoting the charms of the area. R.O. Smith was president of the Orillia Board of Trade for two terms and also served as director of the YMCA.

This storefront photo taken during the golden years of postcard collecting, from 1905 to 1915, shows large quantities of postcards hanging in the top windows. The store was a large one with the main floor being 18 X 90 feet as described in the 1908 Bookseller and Stationer Magazine. The full-sized basement was devoted to surplus stock. The upstairs was utilized for mail order books and extra inventory. In 1911, R.O. Smith expanded to the store adjoining their own and set up a toy department in the basement of the new addition.

Robert Oliver Smith passed away in Orillia on Oct. 3, 1931 at the age of 72. The store closed shortly after. His son, Oliver Garnet Smith, who was a partner in the book store for over 20 years, was also a director of the YMCA. Garnet Smith became the manager of the Orillia Board of Trade, later the Chamber of Commerce, until his passing in 1957 at the age of 74.