Ralph Mercer, the second eldest of 6 children, was born in 1916 in the community of Upper Island Cove, Conception Bay and moved to St. John’s along with his family when he was in his early teens.
Ralph’s ambition and drive came naturally as his father (James) when a very young man left Upper Island Cove and headed for the Klondike in the Yukon to “pan for gold”. He spent 2 years panning for gold and the story is told that he did pan $200.00 worth but it cost him $600.00 to do it.
Ralph attended Bishop Field College and after completing a bookkeeping course went to work at one of St. John’s oldest mercantile firms. Within 6 months he had decided to work for himself and started his own business.
In 1942 Ralph married Ruby Gosse and they opened “The Economy Cash Store”, a retail grocery outlet on the corner of Prescot & New Gower Street. They worked many long hours and as time went by became successful.
After the end of the Second World War, Ralph became interested in starting a wholesale grocery business and in 1947 made a bold move by selling the “Economy Cash Store”. Then, along with his brother-in-law Gordon Green, formed Mercer & Green Ltd. They started wholesaling groceries and decided to move to Clarenville. They had no affiliation with the town but felt it was a good place to build a future.
Mercer & Green were becoming a large employer in the area operating a fleet of trucks, purchasing lumber and local products as well as supplying many stores in the Trinity and Bonavista Bay areas. Ralph decided he needed a way to deliver products to places not accessible by road as there were many in those days. He formed the Clarenville Shipping Company and started to acquire a fleet of schooners. They were The Dauntless, Philip Wayne, Mercer & Green, and the queen of the fleet the Margaret B Tanner (sister ship to the Bluenose).
Things were going well for Ralph until disaster struck in 1955…One of the 5 tonne trucks was having a tank welded in the basement of the building when an explosion occurred causing a fire. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time as a terrific storm called “hurricane Ione” had just hit. Ralph and Ruby were lucky to get out of the building but the mechanic, Johnny Tulk, was even luckier as the explosion blew him through the warehouse door and he lived to tell the tale.
With everything gone, Ralph took a job as a travelling salesman. He picked up a few lines from firms in Montreal and travelled all over the island. In those days things were not as simple as today. Many areas had to be accessed by train or boat. He did this for a few years before making a 180 degree turn.
Ralph decided to stay home and start a poultry farm!! He started with a small amount of hens in his backyard and eventually ended up with 5000. The hennery was located where the Mercer’s Marine warehouse now stands on Marine drive. Eventually, he purchased a parcel of land on the highway between Clarenville and Deep Bight; cleared the land and constructed a new hennery on what now is known as the Dump Road. Always willing to try something new he imported hens from Peru that laid blue eggs, raised chicks and kept Cheviot sheep. He operated the poultry farm until the mid 1960’s.
In 1957 Ralph and Ruby decided to build a store connected to their house and sell novelties, souvenirs, groceries and other small items. The business wall called Mercer’s Variety Store which eventually became Mercer’s Marine.
Ruby mainly ran the store at first as Ralph was busy with the poultry farm. They started opening 6 days a week and every night. After long hours and lots of hard work the store began to pay off and in the mid 60’s Ralph decided to shut down the poultry farm and concentrate on the business.
The Clarenville Shipyard for years had played an important part in the economy of the town and had been closed for a few years when Ralph and his business partner-to-be Eleazer Hiscock were offered the opportunity to take it over.
After much discussion and with his son, Philip, agreeing to run Mercer’s Variety Ralph and Eleazer formed the “Clarenville Drydock Ltd.”. During the life of the company over 50 longliners were constructed, numerous vessels repaired and the schooner Norma & Gladys had a complete refit. During this time 40 to 50 people were employed.
Ralph had never been afraid to try something new. Hard work was second nature to him.