A safe found in the walls of an Ontario antique store belonged to Prime Minister Paul Martin’s great-uncle


A safe found during the demolition of the old Harrow Antique Store in southwestern Ontario belonged to a great-uncle of former Prime Minister Paul Martin, according to Sr Lise Joli, the niece’s daughter by Nell Martin.

Nell Martin was Paul Martin’s mother. The safe belonged to his uncle, TB Adams.

The safe is named after TB Adams, and according to a memorial document called Colchester 225: 150 historical facts set up by the City of Essex in 2017, Adams had a general store in the same location as the antique store.

This safe found in the walls of the former Harrow Antique Store in southwestern Ontario is named after the maternal great-grandfather of former Prime Minister Paul Martin. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

The passage from the commemorative history document reads on page 26: “Paul Martin, spent his boyhood summers at the family cottage in Colchester and as a teenager worked in the Lake Erie fishery and on local farms. His maternal grandparents, Edgar and Amelia Adams, owned a general store in McGregor.”

The document goes on to say that TB Adams was Paul Martin’s great-grandfather, but Sr. Lise Joli said that was untrue. However, the document indicates that TB Adams owned a general store at the end of Queen Street, the location of the antique store.

Katharine Gagnon and her husband Marc, owners of Gagnon Demolition and Recovery, found the safe. She was surprised by the connection.

“Oh really. It’s a coincidence yeah,” Gagnon said.

“There was a rumor before we started the demolition that there might be a safe in the building,” said Marc Gagnon. “And as it happened, my machine operator, Tim Thornton, found the back of the safe after knocking down one of the walls. So we walked around and there was another wall in the front . So we took it all apart and laid it out and I found it.”

The safe, which is about the size of two apartment refrigerators, was built by J & J Taylor of Toronto. The company was founded in 1855 and ceased operations in 1924.

The Harrow Antique Store building was once a Stedman’s dime store. It was built in 1870.

Demolition of the old Harrow Antique Store last month. (Katharine Gagnon)

To make things even more interesting, while the main exterior safe door was unlocked, there is another safe inside that is locked with a combination. The Gagnons have hired a locksmith to open this part of the safe and hope there is something interesting inside.

“I thought there would be some documents in there that you might want to share with the town of Harrow and donate…any of the important documents that might go back to that time,” Katharine Gagnon said.

The old Harrow Antique Store was reduced to a vacant lot last month. It was once the site of a general store owned by Paul Martin’s maternal great-grandfather. (Katharine Gagnon)

The safe is now in Gagnon’s warehouse in McGregor, Ontario. The locksmith plans to visit the warehouse on Friday to open the safe.

Katharine Gagnon said the new owner of the Harrow Antique Store property, now vacant land, wants to buy the vault and incorporate it into the new residential and commercial complex he is building on the site.