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Hants’ Faces Friday – Gabriella Lake

Although Gabriella Lake hasn’t been in Belgium for some time, she’s still fond of one her country’s most famous exports, chocolate.
Although Gabriella Lake hasn’t been in Belgium for some time, she’s still fond of one her country’s most famous exports, chocolate.

WINDSOR, N.S. — Gabriella Lake, with a tray full of cookies, Belgian chocolate, and tea, talks about her late father, Charles Bultheel, who used to operate a shoe business in Windsor.

Lake, who immigrated to Canada from Belgium, reminisces about helping out in the shop and how much things have changed over the years.

After immigrating to Canada from Belgium, Gabriella Lake moved to Windsor to set down some roots.

“They thought it was the name of our shop, but people pronounced it ‘Boot Heel,’ and they thought I was his wife, because he looks very young. My father, Charles Bultheel, when he was a young man, he was in the cavalry. He was in Belgium. That was way before the war. After the war started, when they were mobilized in 1939, he was the cook for one of the regiments. He cooked for the officers; he was a good cook. He was a good shoemaker too, but he was a good cook. He learned his trade when he was 13, living in Belgium. I lived in Ontario, but when my husband was killed, I came to Windsor because his family lived here and then mom and dad came over too. He was retired from the army. They came here in 1957. In 1958, we started the shoe business. It was called Bultheel, but they pronounced it with a ‘oo’ in there, calling it ‘boot heel.’ It was really, the right name, the boot and the heel. I used to wait on the customers and worked on all of the machines. The only thing I couldn’t do was rip off the soles and heels — my hands weren’t strong enough. But I did a lot of the sewing and stuff.”

Gabriella Lake’s father, Charles Bultheel, was a well-known member of the business community — and also quite eccentric. He had a pet crow and was fond of pigeons.

“I did that for 25 years and we started where the barber is now on Gray Street. And then we built on, and then we moved into our home, with the children, and I didn’t have to go out to go to work. It was just a step from the living room into the shop. It was good here. You had opportunity that you’d never get anywhere else. You couldn’t start a business overseas without having a pocket full of money to start out... Here, we started with nothing and the amount we paid for that here was $5 a year. But it was tough going; you had to get your customers in, but once they knew Dad, everybody loved him.”

Gabriella Lake shows some pictures of her father, Charles Bultheel, who used to own a shoe store in Windsor from the late 1950s to the 1970s. It was colloquially known as Boot Heel.

“Dad was funny, always a smile and would always say ‘come on in boss!’ Everybody was boss. They all loved him. And he loved his dogs and he loved pigeons. The town got after him not to feed the pigeons anymore because my roof was nothing but pigeons. He was very kind. People used to come in and some kids wouldn’t have shoes and he would give them some. He used to sell my own shoes. I’d take my shoes off to come in the house and before I knew it, bam, my own shoes were gone. He sold them or gave them away. He died in 1986 and he ran the shop until 1979. It was hard for me, I still miss the people. There was never a moment that there wasn’t something going on. He had the music going, the radio going, the pounding. It was always noisy, and my children would play the piano, so if there wasn’t a noise there, there would be one here. I still see people today who say. ‘God we miss him.’”

Faces Friday is our weekly online feature highlighting members of our community: their strength, challenges and humanity. Meet more of your neighbours in our Faces Friday collection.

Although Gabriella Lake hasn’t been in Belgium for some time, she’s still fond of one her country’s most famous exports, chocolate.

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