Former Stouffville resident, 92-year old Irvin Raxlin shared his memories of growing up in Stouffville from the 1920s when Stouffville’s population was 700. The town now boasts about 40,000 residents and continues to grow.
Stouffville old-timers will remember Raxlin’s Furniture Store and Frigidaire dealership at 6276 Main Street, east of Mill Street. In 1944, Ben Raxlin purchased the red-bricked building, which housed Snowball’s Barber Shop and Sanders Photography Studio.
Before the 1920s, Irvin’s parents, Ben, a Russian immigrant, and his wife, Annie (Rudnick), struggled for a foothold in Toronto. Ben’s sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Mr. Herman, were already established in Stouffville, operating a new and used farm implements business. They convinced the young couple to live in the town and learn the business with Mr. Herman’s guidance. In 1924 Ben placed ads in The Stouffville Tribune, to pay the highest market price for Live Poultry, Geese, Ducks and Feathers. In 1928 similar ads for farm implements sales included buying wool, hides, fat and poultry for shipment to Toronto’s industrial market.
To prosper, Ben Raxlin worked long hours establishing his reputation and integrating his family into the community. When his brother-in-law’s health failed in the late 20s, Ben gradually took over the operations as proprietor of the farm implements business. This occurred as The Depression worsened.
With horse and wagon Ben attended frequent farm auctions and advertised acquisitions weekly in the Stouffville Tribune. Ben’s fascination and love of auction sales led to little misadventures, which Irvin fondly recalls. His father once bought a beautiful-looking horse – which turned out to have no wind. Another time he bought a load of hay, then discovered there was no way to transport the load over a tiny makeshift bridge. Buying items outside of his business line was often irresistible to Ben.
Irvin (nicknamed Sonny) and his brother Lewis were born in the 1920s. For decades, the Stouffville Tribune posted achievement grades for Stouffville’s Continuation School students. Not only did Irvin and Lewis show above average standings, reports indicated the brothers won several field day foot races, standing jump competitions and soccer goals.
Lewis became well-known as a skilled baseball player, representing the Stouffville Junior and Intermediate Baseball Clubs and Stouffville Red Sox team between 1947 and 1952. In 1942, Lewis won Best Comic performance at the Winter Carnival. He was also a member of the local Air Cadets.
The Raxlin’s first family home was south of Main Street on the east side of 10th Line, now demolished. Irvin recalled a superstitious neighbour woman who treated warts by rubbing them with raw meat and burying the meat in the back yard. The Raxlins later moved to central Stouffville on the north side of Main Street near St. James Presbyterian Church. Demolished in the 1970s, the house made way for a block of stores with apartment units above.
In the post war boom, Snowball’s Barber Shop and Sander’s Photography relocated for Ben Raxlin’s expanding furniture and appliance dealership. Ben and Annie worked here until selling the business and building to Herb Kring in 1965. As Ben often travelled to acquire new merchandise, Annie managed the store. She kept up with housework, baking and gardening, and participated in her sons’ activities and community events. As is often the way of small town reporting, acknowledged public notices of thanks and travel plans appeared in the Stouffville Tribune.
For decades, Annie Raxlin won recognition for her garden flowers in the Stouffville Horticultural Society flower shows. Baking, especially her sponge cake, won prizes at the District Christmas Baking Exhibitions. Mr. and Mrs. Raxlin donated money and gifts to every local event and fund-raiser, and financially assisted the war effort and the Red Cross. As a member of the IOOF, and a keen euchre player, Ben (and Annie) joined in the social activities available in a small town.
In 1942, the Stouffville Tribune featured Irvin Raxlin for the following: Irvin Raxlin, second year Arts student at Toronto University, and son of Mr. and Mrs. B. Raxlin of this town, was among the 1,000 students who entrained at Toronto for the Western harvest fields recently. Ben went to the Union Station to see his son off, and says that when the students from the various universities assembled in groups the noise was deafening when the college yells were given. Some of the lads were dressed in straw hats, light shoes, and otherwise flimsy attire, while others were prepared for cold weather with their heavy boots, heavy coats and some good woolens. Irvin Raxlin appears to be Stouffville’s lone representative at University this year, and is having an experience no other student ever had from this village, since the student body is charged with helping to lift the Western grain crop.
In June of 1944, an announcement for Irvin’s graduation with a Bachelor of Arts degree appeared in the local paper, with this addition: Irvin is in military camp at present undergoing training in connection with his University degree.
Within a few years, Irvin graduated as a pharmacist, eventually owning a drugstore in Toronto on Parliament Street. His next store was in Scarborough at the Wexford Heights Shopping Plaza. The last store he owned was Milliken Mills Pharmacy, which he sold in 1986. Irvin married Dorothy Lichtenstein, and they now live in North Toronto. Their daughter and her husband and grandson live in Texas.
In 1954, Irvin’s brother Lewis Raxlin married Marilyn Logan of Canton Ohio. They resided in one of Stouffville’s new homes built on Rose Avenue, south of Main Street before moving to Scarborough. For a few years Lewis worked in his father’s Main Street dealership. Eventually, his father-in-law invited Lewis to join him in the restaurant business in Canton. Ben and Annie felt sad when Lewis and Marilyn moved to Ohio with their three sons. The Raxlin families visited back and forth across the border for many years. Lewis passed away October 13, 2001.
From the early 1950s to mid 60s, Ben Raxlin travelled in the province to meetings and conferences with fellow IOOF lodge members. Due to health concerns and a few hospital stays Ben hired an assistant to help manage the store. After over forty years of conducting business in Stouffville, Ben Raxlin retired in 1965. He sold his Main Street home to Gino Testa. He and Annie moved to Downsview where his son Irvin lived. The couple continued to visit old friends in town and donated to local fundraisers, acknowledged by notes of thanks in the Stouffville Tribune. Ben Raxlin died November 22, 1972. His wife Annie died September 5, 1977.
Perhaps a quote by Ben in The Stouffville Tribune, Dec. 3, 1964 sums up over forty years in the community. “We consider Stouffville our home,” Mr. Raxlin said. “The people here have always been fair. A newcomer to our town would never be lonely because people here are among the friendliest we have ever met. Stouffville has treated us well. We are sorry to leave.”
Irvin stood once again by the red brick building at the hub of Stouffville’s Main Street. He remembered friends of his and his brother Lewis: photographer Ted Cadieux, the Schell boys, the Hazzard family, the Wards, Billy and Wally Nicholson, Lloyd and Bea Jennings, and others. Memories flooded back, like the times the local boys hung out at a blacksmith’s shop south of Main Street on Market Street where the CIBC parking lot is now. He recalls a functioning grain mill and slaughterhouse and skinny-dipping in the pond at the back of the park. The boys mischievously upended outhouses on Halloween night. He had his first glimpse of actress Mae West in a movie at the Stanley Theatre behind the clock tower.
Ben and Annie Raxlin’s family thrived in Stouffville. They worked through nearly five decades to become prominent business people on Main Street. They raised two sons and gave them opportunities to prosper. It is fitting that Raxlin Street in a new subdivision in southeast Stouffville beside a park with tennis courts, splash pad and basketball courts, commemorates the contributions of this family to the character of the town. Thank you Irvin for sharing your memories.