Updated: Apr 17
In November 2012, Nelson’s Wait’s News celebrated its 75th birthday. However, the timing of the festivities was a bit arbitrary because no one was sure exactly when the iconic newsstand and diner opened.
But thanks to the ongoing digitization of the Nelson Daily News we can finally answer that question. Turns out they had they right month but were off by a year.
Wait’s News, ca. 2010, in a high-dynamic range image (Greg Osadchuk photo)
Wait’s News Depot, as it was originally called, opened on Nov. 14, 1936. We know this because helpfully, proprietor Walter Wait placed a classified ad in the Daily News. On opening day he also purchased a display ad that made effective use of white space:
About that address: Wait’s began not at the corner of Ward and Baker but rather near Baker and Josephine. 604½ Baker was renumbered 616 Baker around September 1937. It’s where the Main Street Diner is today, although I’m not sure if it was the same building. BC Assessment suggests a construction date of 1953, but they aren’t always correct.
In any case, Wait’s was there until July 1938, when the new Fink block was completed at the corner of Ward and Baker, on the former site of the Griffin block, also known as the Broken Hill block, which burned down in 1932 (but whose name is now perpetuated in the Broken Hill whiskey bar next door). Wait, who was a sports writer at the Daily News before striking out on his own, recalled in a 1978 letter:
On leaving the News I opened a newsstand next to L.S. Gilbert, the man who owned the Ladybird, fastest boat on the lake in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Then after the big building back of the Hume Hotel was burned about 1934 [sic], and was rebuilt by Vincent Fink, I moved my stand to there and had the corner shop.
The first ads for Wait’s at its new location, 499 Baker, appeared on July 28, 1938, as seen below. It revealed that, among other things, Wait’s now had a lending library ... and a Coolerator.
Despite its prominent location, there are surprisingly few old photos showing Wait’s. Here is the earliest known one, from the Daily News of Sept. 17, 1938.
This one is a detail from a 1945 postcard showing the parade during the first Midsummer Bonspiel:
Details from some incredible 1968 nighttime streetscapes by Ellis Anderson:
Detail from an Al Peterson photo from the mid-1970s:
One I took on June 5, 2000:
Aside from a brief partnership around 1939 with W.R. Gibbon, Walter Wait ran the business as a sole proprietorship for 24 years. His daughter thinks he liked working for himself in a business that gave him lots of interaction with the public.
Based on civic directory listings, he sold it around 1960 to W.M. Montgomery, who in turn sold a year later to brothers Don and Ray Benedetti, Bill Morris, C.V. Hammett and R.C. Heese. By 1965, only the Benedettis were still listed. (When Ray died last year, his obituary pictured him inside Wait’s News.)
At 27 years, the Benedettis were actually proprietors of Wait’s longer than its namesake, retiring in 1989. The next owners were Ron Rubeniuk and Audrey Kemp (1989-91), Steve Legros and Joanne Sanders (1992-94), and Fred and Mary Anne McCelland (1995-2009).
None made many major changes over the years and consequently Wait’s became a beloved anachronism with its narrow footprint and well-worn stools.
Jim and Mari Plamondon took over in 2009 and ran it for another decade before receiving word that Wait’s would be evicted. Its last day at 499 Baker was Sept. 8, 2019, after a run of 81 years, one month, and some number of days. Jim then retired, but the Wait’s story wasn’t finished.
Jim and Mari Plamondon on Nov. 5, 2012 as Wait’s News was getting ready to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Belatedly, as it turns out.
Wait’s News in September 2019, a few days before it left its longtime home.
Soon after, Mari went into partnership with employee Alyx Graham-Taylor and they moved to 323 Nelson Avenue, which was rechristened Wait’s on Nelson. It may not be at the same location, but it very much keeps Wait’s legacy alive, given the name, proprietors, and tributes paid inside the business to its history.
One postscript: after Wait’s left 616 Baker in 1938, it was replaced by Madeline’s News, operated by Madeline Sheller and Johnny Swanson. Subsequently it was renamed Madeline’s Confectionery and continued to operate until 1953, whereupon that address became the Cameo Cafe.
Updated April 16, 2023 to add the quote from Walter Wait.