Safe found in walls of Ontario antique store belonged to Prime Minister Paul Martin's great uncle

A safe found during the demolition of the former Harrow Antique Store in southwestern Ontario belonged to a great uncle of former Prime Minister Paul Martin, documents from the town show.

Safe bears the name T.B. Adams, the maternal great uncle of Paul Martin Jr.

Marc and Katharine Gagnon stand next to the safe their demolition company found in the walls of the Harrow Antique Store in southwestern Ontario. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

A safe found during the demolition of the former Harrow Antique Store in southwestern Ontario belonged to a great uncle of former Prime Minister Paul Martin, according to Sr. Lise Joli the daughter of Nell Martin's niece.

Nell Martin was Paul Martin's mother. The safe belonged to her uncle, T. B. Adams.

The safe bears the name T.B. Adams, and according to a commemorative document called Colchester 225: 150 Historical Facts put out by the Town of Essex in 2017, Adams owned a general store at the same location as the antique store.

This safe found in the walls of the former Harrow Antique Store in southwestern Ontario bears the name of the maternal great grandfather of former prime minister Paul Martin. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

The passage in the commemorative history document reads on page 26: "Paul Martin, spent his childhood summers at the family cottage in Colchester and as a teenager worked in the Lake Erie fishery and on local farms. His maternal grandparents, Edgar and Amelia Adams, owned a general store in McGregor."

The document goes on to say that T.B. Adams was Paul Martin's great grandfather but Sr. Lise Joli said that's incorrect. However, the document does say that T.B. Adams owned a general store at the end of Queen street, the location of the antique store.

Katharine Gagnon and her husband Marc, own Gagnon Demolition and Salvage, and found the safe. She was surprised by the connection.

"Oh really. That's a coincidence yeah," said Gagnon.

"There was rumour before we started the demolition that there might have been a safe in the building," said Marc Gagnon. " And as it happened, my machine operator, Tim Thornton, found the back of the safe after he tore one of the walls down. So we went around and there was another wall on the front of it. So we took it all apart and exposed and found it."

The safe — which is about the size of two apartment-sized refrigerators — was built by the J & J Taylor company in Toronto. The company was founded in 1855 and went out of business in 1924.

The Harrow Antique Store building was once a Stedman's dime store. It was built in 1870.

Demolition of the former Harrow Antique Store last month. (Katharine Gagnon)

To make matters even more interesting, while the main exterior door of the safe was unlocked, there is another safe inside which is locked with a combination. The Gagnon's have hired a locksmith to open that part of the safe and hope there's something interesting inside.

"I was thinking there'd be documents in there that you might want to share with the town of Harrow and donate ... any of the important papers that might lead back to that time," said Katharine Gagnon.

The former Harrow Antique Store was reduced to an empty lot last month. It once was the site of a general store owned by Paul Martin's maternal great grandfather. (Katharine Gagnon)

The safe is now sitting in the Gagnon's warehouse in McGregor, Ont. The locksmith is planning to visit the warehouse on Friday to open the safe.

Katharine Gagnon said the new owner of the Harrow Antique Store property,  now a vacant lot, wants to buy the safe and incorporate it into the new residential and retail complex he is building on the site.


  • An earlier version of this story reported that the safe belonged to Paul Martin's great grandfather. That information came from a document published by the town of Essex. An Adams family member tells CBC News that the T.B. Adams who owned the safe is actually a great uncle to Paul Martin. T.B. Adams was the brother of Martin's maternal grandfather.
    May 19, 2022 2:04 PM ET


Dale Molnar

Video Journalist

Dale Molnar is an award-winning video journalist at CBC Windsor. He is a graduate of the University of Windsor and has worked in television, radio and print.


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