The smoking remains of the C.E. Imeson store after the 1926 fire that devastated most of Burns Lake’s downtown core. The surviving building in the background is the Royal Bank of Canada. (Michael Riis-Christianson photo/Lakes District News)

The smoking remains of the C.E. Imeson store after the 1926 fire that devastated most of Burns Lake’s downtown core. The surviving building in the background is the Royal Bank of Canada. (Michael Riis-Christianson photo/Lakes District News)

The C.E. Imeson general store was a fixture in Burns Lake

Around 1921, Clarence E. Imeson, Marion Prentiss, and Marion’s stepbrother (Frank Ramsden) established C.E. Imeson & Co., General Merchants. The business, located on the north side of Highway 16 in Burns Lake near the present site of the Royal Bank of Canada’s parking lot, carried everything from candy to men’s formal wear. The three men even had a tailor visit regularly so that clients could have their suits custom fitted.

According to Mack Prentiss, Marion’s son, Clarence was initially supposed to run the store and “make a fortune” for the partners. The arrangement proved less than satisfactory, though, so Marion took over the operation and managed it with Ramsden’s help.

The store was a popular one. Residents came from miles around to shop at C.E. Imeson & Co., including local indigenous people, who became some of the store’s best customers.

“(They) brought pack horses to take their supplies home,” Mack recalled. “The first time they came, they just stood around and wouldn’t buy. Dad took a jar of candy and passed it around. After that, we had all their trade.”

The store flourished, in part because of Marion’s friendliness. Mack said his father’s approach to inventory management likely played a part in its success.

“Dad had a lot of dead stock, bolts of cloth, men’s and women’s clothes, etc., so once he had an auction sale with them. Held an item up, got (someone) to bid a nickel. Sold.”

The C.E. Imeson general store remained a fixture in Burns Lake’s downtown corridor for five years. All three men were active in the community, particularly the store’s namesake. Clarence was elected president of the Burns Lake Citizens Association in 1921, and was appointed to village council in 1923.

Clarence did not retain his seat during the 1924 election, but later that year became the village’s first fire chief. He was still serving in that capacity when fire swept through the downtown core on March 18, 1924. Clarence and others turned out to fight the blaze, but had to resort to throwing buckets of snow on the flames because the department’s primary water source, Andy Ruddy’s well, went dry. By the time the fire burnt itself out later in the day, only a handful of buildings were still standing along the Burns Lake’s crooked main street, among them the C.E. Imeson store and the offices of the Royal Bank of Canada.

Clarence resigned as fire chief in October 1925. His replacement, Andy Anderson (a partner in the Beckstead & Kerr garage) had the job for less than a year when a second catastrophic fire broke out.

The Prentiss family lived upstairs in the Imeson store. At 3:30 a.m. on July 28, 1926, Marion awoke to find his bedroom full of smoke. He ran out of the building and tried to ring the town’s new fire bell, but the pull cord broke in his hand on the first yank.

Marion’s subsequent cries of alarm woke up local resident Bill McKenna, who in turn roused Fire Chief Anderson. By the time volunteer firefighters arrived with the village’s solitary chemical engine, the C.E. Imeson building was engulfed in flames.

“Mom was in Seattle, and Dad saved very few personal items,” Mack recalled years after the fire. “He threw his violin out of the upstairs window, with very little damage. Grabbed armfuls of Mom’s clothes, (but) the skirts fell out and were burned. Mom had a lot of blouses only.”

The store burnt to the ground, taking with it all of the stock and most of the Prentiss family’s possessions. Only partially insured, It was never rebuilt.

© 2021 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum SocietyAround 1921, Clarence E. Imeson,