A lifetime in Stratford by Vince Gratton

As a lifetime citizen of Stratford and a local business owner during my years of work I have recently been assisting in the writing and contributing to the Streets of Stratford website. As a result, I have been asked to write my own story about some of my experiences during my years here in Stratford.

I was born in the original Stratford hospital on the 2nd of February 1945. On my mother’s side her roots go back to the first immigrants that arrived in Ellice Township from Germany in 1838. On my father’s side he was a first-generation Canadian born child to parents who both immigrated here from England at the beginning of the last century.

My Dad was educated in North Bay, Ont., and after graduating from high school in 1935 he left his home in Island Falls Ontario and headed south. His desire was to drive until the front wheels of his car touch the Gulf of Mexico where he could be warm all year long. As it happened, he had an aunt and uncle who lived here in Stratford and he dropped in for a visit and to stay a few days.

While visiting there his uncle told him of an opportunity to take over a turn key Shell service station in Shakespeare Ontario. The franchise owner had died suddenly and the business was available immediately. So ended the journey south and next thing Dad knew he was selling Shell gas and all their related automotive products. He would soon add auto repairs both mechanical and body, towing service and buying and selling cars.


During his time in Shakespeare, Dad soon found he enjoyed his new business and the idea of been self employed and the freedom to earn his own wage suited his personality. Did not take him long to establish friends and a social life. Going to dances was a favorite outing for young people then and it was at one such a dance at the Stratford Casino (see Water Street) where he met my mom. They were married soon after in July of 1939. They spent 2 years till 1941 living in a rented home in Shakespeare until war shortages for automotive supplies put an end to the Shell station.

Gratton Body Shop front, at 590 Ontario St., Stratford, 1950 Vince is in the small car.

Gratton auto wreckers, 1955

They moved to Stratford as Mom wanted to stay in the area and they soon owned their first home at 289 Cobourg Street. During a few of the mid war years dad worked locally for C.H.Meier Company (see C.H. Meier Bvd.). When the war was over, he could not wait to get back into the car business. He opened briefly in a rented garage on the north-east corner of Ontario and Romeo Street and then purchased the empty lot next door at 590 Ontario Street. Here he built his new shop in 1948 and stayed there for over a decade till there was a need for more space for vehicle parking.

This need for more space was the motivator to expand into the auto wrecking business. There he could still do body work and mechanical repairs and towing was a natural for auto wreckers. Used parts was a big part of his business during the auto parts recycling time.

Life was good for my parents and the early sixties were no different. Business proved more of a challenge by the end of the decade and I could see my dad was struggling. Married by this time my wife Maureen and I made a big decision. We would leave our secure employment to enter a partnership with Dad. He needed the help and like my Dad I always wanted to be my own boss and this was an opportunity to do just that.

In the spring of 1969, we found ourselves a half owner of an auto body repair shop and small time used car dealer. It was a lot of work, long hours, and responsibility however I loved it. Cars had always been important to me. Owned my first car at 14 and had many on my own before I was 21. Repairs and cars came easy to me and the business end seemed natural. After 5 years as partners, I bought my dad out and was now the sole proprietor. Soon after I purchased the business, I bought a small cement block building that sat on a good size lot at 397 Romeo Street South.

During the seventies and eighties, the business grew and the original building would see four additions added to it and the employee count grew from one to eight. Settling automotive insurance property damage claims became the focus with some private repair and paint work for regular customers.

Gratton Auto Collision, 397 Romeo St. S., 1991

Maureen and Vince Gratton on their 50th wedding anniversary, Nov 17, 2017

I stayed with the business till I was 58 and was stricken with cancer. The decision was made then to sell the business and regardless of the outcome of my cancer we would enter our retirement years.

Outside of work over the years both Maureen and I have both been members of service organizations, held various chairs, been on volunteer committees and sat on boards where our experiences could be beneficial. Not sure why however I always had a strong interest in local history. Never turned down the opportunity to talk to seniors and listen to their own Stratford memories. We have built a large personal library and a collection of all things Stratford. Growing up only a block from the Theatre as a child and then as an adult living within a few blocks of the entire east end of our parks system at our doorstep has made us both passionate dedicated citizens of Stratford. We both take great pleasure in a simple walk or cruise about the park to this day. Our love for our home city never waivers.

All photos by Vince Gratton