Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios

Antigonish jewellery store part of the community for 100 years

Patricia and Sheila Hawley.

Cameron’s Jewellery Ltd. continues to sparkle 100 years after making its debut in Antigonish in 1922. Its success can be credited to quality products, good service and strong, hard-working women.
The shop is currently owned by the Hawley sisters: Patricia, Brenda, Carmen and Sheila. They all work there in some capacity, but it’s Brenda who is affectionately considered the historian and spent 20 years — more, if you consider her early teenage years — working among the glitter and the gold.
“I started working for my father at 13,” recalls Brenda. “He’d give me $10 out of his pocket once a week. That was my pay.
“[The store is] our life blood. It’s who we are. It’s been with us since before we were born. We always had it and it’s something we took great pride in.”
Before these four ladies, there were other remarkable women who played key roles in Cameron’s success.
Zina Cameron began working at Monahan Jewellery in 1926 for the owner, Fred Monahan.
“She was a woman ahead of her time,” says Brenda. She was bright, active in sports and
her community.
Cameron captained the Antigonish Ice Sickles, a local woman’s hockey team, long before it was socially acceptable for ladies to play the sport. An article in the Feb. 12, 1920 issue of The Casket describes Cameron as “a neat stick handler and a wicked shot.” On the ice was not the only place Cameron’s skills would shine.
Born in Antigonish in 1899, Cameron attended the Bowman School of Watchmaking in Philadelphia and the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto. When the original proprietor of the jewellery store died, she bought the business and changed the name to Cameron’s Jewellery.
As the business continued to grow, Cameron hired two Second World War veterans, Joe MacPherson and Cyril Hawley. In 1942, Cameron designed the famous X-Ring.
“She designed it and outsourced the work to have it made,” says Brenda. “The original company still makes the ring. Not the same employees, but it’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
The ring is a prominent part of the retailer’s success, but only part of the story.

When Cameron retired, she sold the store to MacPherson and Hawley.
“They worked side by side and ran the business,” recounts Brenda.
MacPherson died in 1969, making Brenda’s father, Cyril Hawley, the sole owner. Cyril passed away in 1976, leaving the business to his widow,
Aloma Hawley.
“My mother came in not knowing anything, really,” explains Brenda.
“She had four children at home who needed to be looked after. She really stepped up.”
She goes on to say her mother made some wise choices over the years. She gives her credit for keeping Cameron’s in business. Learning as she went, Aloma maintained the dedication Cameron had established.
“I went to Toronto and took a watch making course and came back and joined her in the store,” says Brenda. “I started working full time in ’79 or ’80. I’ve been here awhile.”
Brenda worked alongside her mother for 20 years before moving to Halifax to become a teacher, but she always kept in touch with the company.
Business continued to sparkle and shine. “In the 70s, 80s and 90s, it was quite busy. I remember delivering wedding gifts to people. It was considered a big thing to get a gift from Cameron’s.”
As part of their customer service, presents were hand delivered on the day of the ceremony.
A strong work ethic and attention to detail have been constant for a century, although the store has been updated and relocated.
“When I was a child, it was on the corner of Main and College, where an insurance company is now,” Brenda says. “Then we moved to a lower basement on College Street, then in 1981, back to Main Street.”
They completely renovated in 2011 to “freshen it up.” The current store features a chandelier that pays tribute to the famous university ring and a few pieces from the past. An oak cabinet, the safe and the work bench where Cyril Hawley once worked, are all from the original store. “My father’s work bench is the bench I work on when I’m repairing watches,” says Brenda.
When their mother died, the four sisters became co-owners. And all continue to participate in some capacity, adding to the list of women involved in Cameron’s. This is an important aspect of their longevity. “The thing that really stands out for me is the staff,” says Brenda. “We’ve always had women. It’s nice to see good strong women in a business that has lasted 100 years and was begun by a woman who was ahead of her time.”
Pride in ownership and gratitude for their clientele and staff have attributed to the success of Cameron’s.
“I’m thankful for having had such a wonderful staff,” says Brenda. “We’ve had dedicated people who feel the same way about the store as we do.”
Cameron’s is more than a store selling sparkly jewels. It’s a family of hard workers ready to serve their clients and community. Cameron’s Jewellery is a true gem.