Killaloe mourns local legend

KILLALOE – Benedict “Benny” Anthony Afelskie did a lot more than operate a successful business in Killaloe for decades.

He ensured that hardworking foresters had the proper footwear and clothing to do their job. He gave strangers a chance by giving them credit at his store. He welcomed outsiders with a big smile and a good story.

But after shaping the community for the better for more than 85 years, the local leatherworker passed away at St. Francis Memorial Hospital on July 17.

Benny comes from a pioneer Polish family that settled in the Killaloe community. His grandparents, Antoine and Rose Afelskie, came to the area in the mid 1890’s and settled on Mask Road. Their son and Benny’s dad, Roman, left the farm at 16 years old and went to Ottawa to learn how to make harnesses.

Roman came back to Killaloe in the 1920‘s and eventually bought the property where Afelskies Shoes still operates today.  As horse and buggy was a popular mode of transportation at the time, leather harnesses were in demand. Roman met that need by making countless of them and selling them to locals and tourists alike.

Roman and his wife Mary (nee Lorbetskie) had five children including Frankie, Anna, Theresa, Archie and Benny. Benny was born November 1, 1927.

Tragedy struck the Afelskie family when Benny was around 10 years old. Roman was out fishing with a neighbour on Golden Lake when an accident happened and the two drowned.

Theresa was left to look after the five children. Her brother, Joe Lorbetskie came out to the area to help his sister run the harness business. He continued to do so until Benny was old enough to take over in around 1946.

When he was in his early 20’s, Benny went to Carson Luggage in Ottawa for a six month course on the leather trade. He returned and married Teresa Sullivan of Brudenell. They had six children including David, Charles, Shaun, Tammy, Mary Lyn and Cindy.

As the years went on, automobiles were becoming mainstream and harnesses were not in as much demand. So, as farmers and workers were asking for more leather footwear products and work clothes, Benny had the foresight to change his expertise and become a shoe maker/repairer.

“They called him a shoemaker, but really, he was into shoe repairs. From the harness making to the shoe repairs,” his son, Shaun explained. 

Story continues in the July 24, 2013 issue of The Valley Gazette