There’s a butcher’s table behind the counter at Halliday’s Meat Market on Gower Street that weighs an estimated 1,000 lbs with not a visible screw or nail in it — a massive part of a tree trunk with pieces all dovetailed together.
“If you can carry it out you can have it,” jokes Cliff Halliday Jr., or “Kip” as everyone refers to him. He says the table came from Duff’s Grocery Store, which used to be on the corner of Freshwater Road and Empire Avenue. It’s been in his family’s store since he can remember.
Kip has been working at the family meat shop in some way since he can remember, too.
“I can remember I was small enough to get into that showcase and wash it,” he says.
That’s hard to believe now. Kip is a thick man with a boisterous laugh — a wrecking ball with in an almost unnerving sense of humour moving back and forth throughout the back of the store. If you get a tour of the meat locker, you’ll probably get locked in there for a few seconds with the lights off as the laughter barrels through the door from outside.
History and such carrying on go hand in hand at Halliday’s. The store is turning 100 years old this year. Kip is the third generation to take it on and it isn’t long before 80-year-old Cliff Halliday Sr. comes through the door and starts moving a couple of cases of beer at the corner of the showcase at the back of the store.
“He’s getting his chair ready for the day,” Kip says as he watches his father move the cases to make a spot for himself to sit.
It’s one of those daily routines that take place at Halliday’s.
“Literally, he gets on the beer,” Kip says laughing.
Senior’s father started Halliday’s in 1914 when he was 17 years old. It was at 1 Duckworth St., later it moved to the bottom of Signal Hill. The family owned a farm on Nagle’s Hill and at the age of 14 his father decided to take it over and care for his widowed mother and three sisters.
“He was all guts, I tell ya. Kept his three sisters and mother. He had the belly. He had the guts,” says Senior.
Halliday’s moved to its current location in 1967. Kip takes care of the business now, but his father still comes in every morning about 6:30 am.
“I’ve done some pounding on that, buddy,” he says, pointing to the aforementioned table. “We don’t use the block like we used to years ago. Years ago, you’d be using the cleaver. Cutting. Chopping. Sawing.”
Kip marvels at how things must have been done back in his grandfather’s day.
“There was none of this,” he says, banging a marker against a counter. “There was no markers. There was no refrigeration. There was no plastic. So how did you wrap stuff up? Only with brown paper and a bit of string.”
One of the biggest changes is the way they get their meat, Senior says. They once butchered their own or got it delivered in quarters. Now it comes in already separated into cuts.
“We’re not butchers anymore. Now we’re only meat cutters,” Senior says.
But there are plenty of things that haven’t changed at Halliday’s, such as that bit of extra care.
“A lot of people wants a bit of personal service,” says Senior. “You treat people right, they’ll come back.”
And people have been coming back, some for more than 50 years. Likewise, Halliday’s has employees who have been with them for 27 years.
“It’s hard to hold onto, though,” says Senior.
Big box stores make for tough competition. Still, Kip says they pick up plenty of new customers, too. And certainly there have been the customers and friends that will never be forgotten.
“A lot of old fellas sat in that chair there buddy, I tell ya,” says Senior.
Bill King would come from St. Philip’s to wait for his wife every afternoon, he says. He would sit down for a yarn and a drink — “a toothful” as Senior calls it.
Senior would buy splits and vegetables from King and when it was time to get paid, King would want only loonies. He’d roll them up until he had a thousand and then would take them to the bank to get a $1,000 bill.
“I don’t know what he did with all his $1000 bills,” Senior laughs. “He was a lovely man, old Bill was.”
The future of Halliday’s seems to be dependable for a while yet. Kip has the place running well.
“It’s too bad he wasn’t a twin, Kip. I’d make twice as much money,” says Senior.
Kip’s brother, Chris, started working at Country Ribbon when he was 16. Senior says he’s up at the store on his time off now and he can retire in a few years and will likely be there a lot more then.
Operations beyond that generation are a little more uncertain. Kip has a daughter who spends a bit of time around the store. “I don’t want to turn her from it. I was never forced to do it. If you wanted to come out, you came out,” he says.
With the store 100 years old, perhaps the best thing is to think of what the man who started the place would think.
“He’d be a happy man,” says Senior. “As long as he had the family happy and they had enough to eat, that’s all he wanted.”