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O'Brien's cubs: a 1912 business owner brought bears to Collingwood's main street

With bearly any records of the cubs, it's hard to say why, exactly, they were displayed on Hurontario Street by a men's clothing store owner

Many stunts have been pulled in the name of advertising. In Collingwood, one shop owner brought two bear cubs to the main street.

Two photographs in the Collingwood Museum’s permanent collection document bear cubs believed to have been owned by Robert W. O’Brien. O’Brien was part owner of O’Brien and Hewson, a retailer in men’s furnishings, when this photograph was taken on June 14, 1912.

The men’s firm was located at 69 Hurontario Street. Today, this storefront is home to Homme Femme.

O’Brien also had a fur store business at the same address; however, this was gutted by a fire in 1910. According to David Vuckson, O’Brien’s great-grandson, the slogan for the fur store was "The Sign of the Bear."

O’Brien was joined by his son-in-law, Robert James Hewson, in 1910 to operate the men’s store.

An undated advertisement on a book jacket in the Museum’s collection proclaims: “When in need of a New Suit or any kind of Men’s Wear come to O’Brien & Hewson You’ll Find the Style and Price Right.”

This book cover was originally used by the Collingwood Public Library as a “hygienic cover” for books in circulation.

Collingwood Museum staff were delighted to receive an email from Collingwood Museum Member David Vuckson about a photograph available for purchase on eBay earlier this year. Staff quickly purchased the photograph, also captioned “O’Brien’s Cubs 14-6-12”, for the Museum’s permanent collection as it features a different perspective of the downtown scene (Photograph 2).

Photograph 2 reveals a much clearer view of the cubs, O’Brien, and includes a crowd of onlookers that watch O’Brien give the bears a drink from what appears to be a glass milk bottle.

Of the six men and three boys in the photograph, all but the two boys on the right appear transfixed by the cubs. The latter are looking directly at the photographer. Unfortunately, their identities are unknown, but their appearance gives us a glimpse into the life, and dress, of children in 1912 Collingwood. One of the young boys carries a parcel under his arm.

A sign on the window in the background of Photograph 2 verifies that the bears were located directly in front of O’Brien and Hewson’s storefront. The reason for their appearance is unknown.

If you have any information to share about “O’Brien’s Cubs,” please contact Collingwood Museum staff at mshaw@collingwood.ca.

Remember This is a weekly series of historic photographs submitted by the Collingwood Museum to CollingwoodToday.ca. These photographs were originally collected and documented by the Huron Institute in an historical catalogue entitled Huron Institute Paper and Records: Volume III. Much of Collingwood’s early history has been preserved due to the dedication and foresight of the early museum’s founders, namely its secretary-curator David Williams, upon its establishment in 1904.