Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A very brief history of the Bretzlaff store

What you can learn when you stop by for a coffee in Ladysmith

Charles Dickson
Ladysmith July 28, 2023
The Bretzlaff family has operated a store at the intersection that defines downtown Ladysmith for 104 years.
Last year, they decided to put it up for sale.
Greg Bretzlaff is the third generation of Bretzlaff to run the convenience store. The business was started by his grandfather, Verner Bretzlaff, who ran it with his wife Marie (Rueckwald) for about 40 years. Their son, Wally, married Gerda Erfle and then took over the store in 1960.
“Wally worked in the store for two or three years, but it wasn’t for him,” says Gerda. “He went to work as an electrician at the Hilton Mines and then he went to the paper mill near Portage for 29 years, and then retired.”
Meanwhile, Gerda ran the store from the early 1960s. Her son, Greg, took over the business 33 years ago, but Gerda is still helping out.
Gerda’s parents had been part of the small community of German farmers living in Bessarabia that returned to Germany at the beginning of World War II under the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union. On their migration back to Germany, the Erfle family spent two years in western Poland, which had been put under German control as a secret part of the German-Soviet pact, and is where Gerda was born.
“Then we were in East Germany for another couple of years, and then just before the wall went up, my father said ‘We’re going to the west’, and we went back to Stuttgart where the forefathers came from,” she said.
“In ‘59, I came to Canada, in ‘60 got married, and that was it,” said Gerda.
“I met Wally at the dance hall down the road here,” she recalls, gesturing up one of Ladysmith’s two streets.
“Every Friday night there was a dance, and that is where I met him, and I got stuck in Ladysmith. Lucky me!” she smiles.
Asked how it feels to be selling the family business, Gerda replied “Yes, I will miss it, if it was sold and I couldn’t be in here helping out, because I’ve done it all my life,” she says.
“What can you say? All good things come to an end.”


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