There was a healthy rivalry in the bicycle racing and bicycle selling culture of Peterborough at the turn the century.
Banks and Whites were two of the main shops in the early part of the 20th century in Peterborough. But there were many entrepreneurs that were swept up in the bicycle craze at the turn of the century. Blacksmiths, watch makers, sporting goods shops of course and even auto shops were getting into the business of bicycles.
Banks Bicycle Store was owned by Marlow Banks.
Marlow’s father, Charles Banks, came to Peterborough from Galt (Cambridge) in 1901 where he sold the first motorcycle in Canada. His step-brother, Bill McCallum, had a restaurant on George Street. His father came to Peterborough to buy a sporting goods business. He stayed at the Empress Hotel and found out the next day that it was already sold.
So he opened his own store on George Street under the town clock. It was located second from the corner of George and Charlotte Streets. It was a small store that sold everything sporting. Above we see, top left, the shop at 195 Charlotte St. in 1935, then below that the shop in 1947 still at 218 Charlotte and then at the right is Banks in 1957 at 338 Aylmer St.
According to Marlow his father “saw the future in things.” The shop later moved locations. (It was Banks Bicycles that ordered in the replica big wheel bicycle for Dr. Willoughby Belch that we have as part of this exhibit.)
Local man, Pat Johnston, remembers putting together the high wheeler when he worked at the shop in 1967. It was the first time he had ever seen a big wheel bike.
“I was the only employee, Marlow Banks was the boss. Our most expensive bike was a Raleigh Superbe at $95.00. When it sold Marlow would write to Raleigh to order another one. Later in the 1970’s with six to eight employees Marlow would order 100 bikes over the phone without giving it a second thought. We had a separate warehouse (upstairs at what is now the Champs Restaurant) We stocked about 300 bikes then.”
Banks also had the first gas pump in Peterborough in 1911. (Images courtesy of David Banks.) David C Banks was the grandson of Charlie Banks and said, “He ran the Banks garage (image below) in 1919 too.” The garage was at 212-214 Charlotte which is now an empty lot, formerly the Peterborough Curling Club.
Banks added, “I believe the depression ruined his business and after that he began selling bicycles.”
We spoke with Peggy Brownscombe, the daughter of Ollie White, the owner of White’s Cycles and Sports and asked what life was like in Peterborough when two wheelers were just taking off. “He was always trying to do something different – anything to bring attention to the business,” she told us. “He really loved making funny ads. He had a reputation for his sense of humour.”
Brownscombe remembered one time her father put fire crackers under the sidewalk chair of one of his neighbouring business owners. When they went off the shop owner Mr. Cherney, a furniture salesman, called him “Ollie Shite.”
“…He always laughed so hard retelling that story. I guess it was a nickname that stuck,” she recalled with a chuckle. Brownscombe said her father was never happier than when he was in the Kawarthas fishing and enjoying the outdoors. As for his bicycle business, he was always coming up with new and creative ways to sell his goods and he loved using creative techniques – as was the way with bicycle marketing during its heydays. White even went so far as to build the cycle quad (below) for one of the local parades. We think it might have been a Canada Day float for a youth group, as it looks to be summer. Is that the J.J. Turner building in the background?
White’s was “Peterboro’s Most Interesting Store” – seen below with a high wheel or ‘ordinary’ bike out front along with the modern ‘safety’ bicycle to the left and a number of trikes and what appears to be a bike rack.
White also had a “bicycle ambulance” (which makes me think about how CAA recently got into the business of roadside bicycle repair.)
Of course White’s and Banks were not the only two purveyors of pedal power in town.
Here are just a couple of the other ads, below, with amazing ad copy we found in an 1898 edition of The Examiner (which was weekly back then) while sniffing around at the Peterborough Museum and Archives.
“Cheap Wheels are Dear at Any Price.”
These bicycles were “Above criticism and beyond comparison” and “the exponent of high art.”
Funny how we’ve come full circle. The bicycle is now again becoming so popular we see it used in marketing campaigns everywhere.
Do you know more about these images? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or write in the book at one of our pop-up events in Peterborough, Ontario.