Mourning 'Mr. Gananoque,' a small-town fixture for nearly 100 years

Charles Donevan (Donevan's Hardware/Facebook - image credit)
Charles Donevan (Donevan's Hardware/Facebook - image credit)
Charles Donevan
Charles Donevan

Charles 'Charlie' Donevan, seen here during a celebration of his 98th birthday in 2022, died earlier this month at age 99. His family opened a hardware store in Gananoque, Ont., in 1872. Besides carrying on the business, Donevan developed land he later donated to Parks Canada, which absorbed it into Thousand Islands National Park. (Donevan's Hardware/Facebook)

When Mayor John Beddows moved to Gananoque, Ont., and needed a plexiglas piece for his front door, locals sent him to Donevan's Hardware.

Charles "Charlie" Donevan, the downtown store's resourceful proprietor, had a piece cut for him.

Beddows' predecessor, Ted Lojko, once needed his own small part and went to the store too. Donevan, who commonly greeted customers from his rocking chair, went in the back and found just the right thing.

"He was kind of an icon," Lojko said. "People appreciated not only him as an individual but a lot of the benevolent things he did for the town."

Donevan, 99, died on May 2, just three months shy of his 100th birthday.

Celebration plans had been in the works for that milestone. Instead, on Saturday, community members, loved ones and out-of-towners gathered at Grace United Church to remember the man touted as "Mr. Gananoque."

In addition to his longstanding store, Donevan was known for championing the arts scene, helping to found the local Festival of the Islands and donating land that's now part of Thousand Islands National Park.

"The population of Gananoque is 5,383," read the poster for his celebration of life. "Chances are, we will all be there."

Charles "Charlie" Donevan inside Donevan's Hardware store
Charles "Charlie" Donevan inside Donevan's Hardware store

Customers say Donevan was great at finding just the right part for them. (Donevan's Hardware/Facebook)

Donated land to Parks Canada

Donevan was born in 1924 and, as Beddows put it, lived nearly a century filled with "enormous transitions," all the way from the Great Depression to artificial intelligence.

But despite his own contributions to local history, Donevan avoided the spotlight, in contrast to what Beddows described as today's me-me-me TikTok age.

A civil engineer graduate from Queen's University in nearby Kingston, Ont., Donevan carried on his father and grandfather's business, one the family began operating in 1872.

Donevan made bicycle deliveries for the store at a young age, according to his obituary. As owner, he sourced hard-to-find products from all over the world, according to his daughter Mary.

"His love was the store right from the very beginning," she said.

mural in honour of Charles Donevan
mural in honour of Charles Donevan

This mural was erected in Donevan's honour in 2018, just steps away from the hardware store. Donevan loved the outdoors. (Donevan's Hardware/Facebook)

Landons Bay, a nature area east of Gananoque along the St. Lawrence River that Donevan and volunteers developed as a summer camping area in the 1960s, was also close to his heart, Mary said.

In 2005, Donevan offered the property to Parks Canada, which incorporated it into Thousand Islands National Park.

Thanks to his work, future generations can enjoy Landons Bay's natural beauty and unique geological features, Parks Canada said in a statement to CBC.

The land is now a protected space for at-risk and diverse species, the agency added.

"I mean, how many people have you met or heard of who are personally responsible for building what became a national park?" Beddows said.

Views from the Donevan Trail lookout.
Views from the Donevan Trail lookout.

Donevan donated land on Landons Bay, located east of Gananoque along the St. Lawrence River, to Parks Canada in the early 2000s. This is the view from the Donevan Trail lookout. (Courtesy Adventure Report)

Involved in business to the end, daughter says  

Despite his advanced age, Donevan remained committed to the hardware business.

The family even rented a home near the store when his health began failing so that he could stay close by, his daughter said.

Donevan had a stroke in January, was blind in one eye and had some difficulty hearing. But he was still "sharp as a tack", Mary said, with his memory seemingly becoming clearer over time.

Some customers are only finding out about Donevan's death by coming to the store, she added.

"I've had people hugging me and people crying."

Donevan's Hardware store historic photo, undated
Donevan's Hardware store historic photo, undated

An earlier, undated photo of the Donevan's Hardware store exterior. (1000 Islands History Museum/Facebook)

One particular moment sticks out for Beddows.

When he met Donevan after being elected mayor in 2022, Donevan had only one question for him, he said.

"What's your plan to help the people who need help now?" Beddows recalls Donevan asking about those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I don't know what to say besides that," Beddows told CBC.