Generations remember the place as “Dempsey’s,” a cluttered general store on the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue that was moved 2 km north to Beecroft Road in 1996 to make way for developers. But as much as the name “Dempsey” might evoke memories, it also obscures a deeper history that gave the neighbourhood its name: Lansing.
The general store was constructed in 1860 as the home and country store of Joseph Shepard II, the youngest son of Loyalist pioneer Joseph Shepard (sometimes spelled Sheppard, as in the street named after the family).
With its pot-bellied stove and long counters offering everything from flour and cheese to bolts of blue denim, farm implements and crockery, the store was a village focal point. Behind the store was the Shepard family’s kitchen and parlour, with six large bedrooms upstairs.
In 1866, a post office was opened in the store and dubbed “Lansing,” the name suggested by Shepard’s daughter, Saida, for reasons that remain a mystery. Four years later, Shepard’s son, another Joseph, took over the business and served as postmaster and general merchant, in addition to running the family’s flour and lumber mills on the west branch of the Don River. The Shepard family sold the shop in 1904 to Benjamin Brown, a local grocer, who in turn sold it to brothers George and William Dempsey in 1921.
By Kenneth Kidd