Most area residents have plants from Laporte’s Nursery in their yard. The business has been around for over 70 years and gardeners have learned to depend on the four generation family business for solid advice and healthy plants.
Aldege (Alec) and Christina (Tina) Laporte had a wonderful garden. Grandma worked very hard tending to all the beautiful tomatoes and vegetables. Alec (Grandpa to me), worked at Butti’s Grocery store which sat where the new TD Canada Trust Bank is now located in downtown North Bay. When the grocery store closed down, grandpa opened Alec’s Meat Market and operated that for the next few years. The small deli was located where The Joke Shop called home for some 40 years after.
My grandmother while still tending to the garden would have people from the area come and ask to buy some produce from her massive garden. She would dig up or pick what the person wanted and wrap it in newspaper and put an elastic around it. By this time grandpa was older so his duties were limited to the seeding of the plants and the collecting of the money. But, you might still remember my grandfather as the bus driver for the North Bay to Temiscaming and the North Bay to Callander run. (We used to call it the Callandar Stage.) Customers would say to him “Your tomatoes and vegetables are really wonderful; do you think we could buy the plants from you and try growing them ourselves?” And so Laporte’s Nursery was born. Trees, shrubs and evergreens were planted in the ground until being sold. A customer would purchase a Mugho Pine for example and the family would go out in the field dig it up, bag it and load it in the customer’s vehicle.
Prior to my father taking over the business in 1971; he worked for Fred Culin at Arnstein Equipment as the parts and service manager. Lots of men would still come into the nursery and talk to my dad about tractor and truck parts.
With the increasing demand for the plant paraphernalia, Laporte’s Nursery evolved into a full fledged garden centre. As the business expanded and the demand for their plants outgrew the size of the garden and amount of greenhouses and taking into account our short northern growing season, we had to find a grower in Southern Ontario that could supply us with any excess product that needed to be grown. Brownridge Greenhouses in Milton, Ontario has been growing for us for the last 60+ years. With the demand for newer and more unique plants, we have now expanded our growers to more than seven in Southern Ontario.
The nursery was located for 50 years on Toronto Street in Nipissing Junction, with all the generations living in the area at some point in time. In 1999, the operation was moved to 1054 Lakeshore Drive. Business was rapidly expanding so we had to move to a much larger and more exposed location.
Through the years the full time staff had remained the same. Heading the list was Lea Laporte Bale, my dad’s sister and my wonderful Auntie. She worked at the nursery since its inception, looking after the annuals and special orders for customers. Her kind and gentle nature made her a customer favourite. She has now since retired but, visits us on a regular basis. Mary Lawrence looked after the perennial area since I was a little girl. Her plant knowledge was invaluable. Steve Claridge worked in trees, shrubs and evergreens. Mark Claridge worked in the yard loading soil and aggregate. You could always count on his smiling friendly face to greet you! Linda Baxter would always be found in the shop on cash. Linda always made me laugh. We could always be found doubled over in laughter over something silly being said. Lyndy Krause was an invaluble source of information for many years!! And then there is Dianne Barber who is my sister from another mother! All of the above mentioned people all constributed to the success of Laporte's On Lakeshore. I would like to make a special mention of a wonderful person, Dalton Hazzard; who helped out at the nursery since I was a little girl. Dalton turned 95 years old in 2021. My daughters Ashley Champion and Kelsey McMullen have grown up around all the madness their whole lives. Ashley lives in Porcupine and can be found lots of Springs helping in the store to get us through the caotic 8 weeks. Kelsey helps to keep me grounded with taking care of all the bookkeeping and helping with the ordering. She is my right arm....lol And then there is me, Lori. You can always find me somewhere in the yard or shop or on cash. With the telephone attached to my ear. For a good portion of the season we work seven days a week; some of us working 12-13 hours a day.
It was important to my father, James Laporte, that our customers know that we are here for them. Our family will not sell plants that are not proven to be northern climate cold hardy.
I often talk about my sister, Keely Laporte. She was only 10 months older than I so we were not only sisters and co-workers, we were friends. We both had our children at the same time. She named hers Tara and Eric and I named mine Ashley and Kelsey. They grew up being as close as Keely and I were. Keely truly inherited the green thumb from grandpa and grandma Laporte (just like Aunt Lea) She definitely had a passion for plants. She passed away from cancer June 4, 2005 at the age of 43. It was one of the busiest days of the year! The garden centre was so important to her, that she didn’t want us to close for her funeral until the busy season was over. Each year we only get one shot at the season, so we waited a month to have her funeral. The saying; “Make hay while the sun shines” is so true. Six months prior to Keely’s death we lost another beloved staff member, Aldean Dowdall. Aldean worked in the houseplant and geranium greenhouse for many years. Her sense of humor always had us in stitches. Terry Dawn Hamilton who worked in trees, shrubs and evergreens for around 20 years has since passed away also. We lost 2 beloved staff members this year (2021) also. Gary Lemon, who was just like a second dad to me and our beloved Mark Claridge. When you are a small family operated business and you lose some of your key people, it is like losing a part of yourself.
At Easter in 2007 (April 3rd) to be exact, I lost one of the most important people in my life. My Mother, Beverlee Laporte!! My mother shaped me into being the person that I am today. Her death left a hole in me that can never be filled. Not a day doesn't go by that I don't think of the family members that have gone before us.
In July 2016 my father, James Laporte passed away as well. I can't tell you how much I miss him. The conversations with my Dad were always so informative. I miss his smile and generally just being with him every day. I spent a lot of time around my dad. The garden centre misses him too!!
Both my daughters; Ashley Champion and Kelsey McMullen work with us as well! They have since they were young. That makes us a four generation family business. In 2008, I celebrated the birth of my first grandchild; Arthur James Champion and in 2013, I welcomed my second grandchild; Arielle Sophia McMullen and then my third grandchild; Wesley James McMullen in 2016. My sister Keely would have been a grandmother as well with four wonderful grandchildren; Jacob, Angel, William and Alexander. Maybe the garden centre will be in the hands of a fifth generation. Wouldn’t that be great?
I think Grandpa and Grandma Laporte would be very proud of Laporte’s Nursery as it is today!