DARTMOUTH ORIGINALS - MEET KATHERINE

KATHERINE’S DARTMOUTH LOVE STORY

It was love at first sight that brought Katherine Keramaris to downtown Dartmouth more than 50 years ago.

Katherine Keramaris as a young woman in Greece

Katherine remembers the night she met her husband and soul mate in perfect detail.  The year was 1970.  Katherine (or Ekaterini as she is known to her family) was a 21-year-old seamstress living with her parents in a small village in Greece.  She and her family headed out that evening for a community dance.  The air was warm, the music was pleasant, and Katherine spent most of her time sitting casually beside her mother and a few friends just people watching. 

The mood changed abruptly with a commotion at the door.  Everyone turned to watch a group of young men enter the dance hall.  Katherine was immediately drawn to one of them, a handsome stranger.  He noticed her back. Katherine’s mother caught the exchange and scolded her daughter. Katherine says her mother was horrified at the notion of her daughter talking to a stranger, especially one so handsome and, obviously, a few years older.  Unaware of his future mother-in-law’s disapproval, Photios Keramaris walked confidently over to Katherine and asked her to dance.  Breathless, she said “yes” and her whole life changed forever.

Within a week, Photios proposed to Katherine, and within a month, the engaged couple flew to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.  Katherine’s first impressions of the community were not great.  For starters, she arrived in February and had never experienced such cold weather in her life.  She didn’t know the landscape or the language - and she barely even knew her fiancée.

Katherine would soon learn that the man she was about to marry made two trans-Atlantic crossings, learned two new languages and started a new life in two countries before he met her at the dance that night.  In the mid-60s, Photios left his native Greece to pursue a dream to move to Canada.  Folks told him he’d have better success with the immigration process if he lived in another European country before applying to be a Canadian citizen.  Photios moved to Germany for a few years, picked up German and perfected his skills as a tailor.  Eventually, he was accepted into Canada and chose Halifax as his preferred city of residence because it was close to the ocean (just like Greece, he thought.) 

It didn’t take long for Photios to realize that life in Atlantic Canada was nothing like the life he knew in Greece.  On his first night in Halifax, he wandered around for hours, stunned at how out of place he felt.  Eventually, he stopped for a rest at a German restaurant.  The waitress spoke some German and was able to communicate with Photios.  She was sympathetic to his situation and gave him some leads on possible jobs and accommodations with some people she knew.  That conversation led Photios to a job at Angela’s Tailor Shop on Portland Street.*

Determined to make a life for himself in Canada, Photios worked long hours at that tailor shop.  Any free time was spent taking English lessons at Dartmouth High School and with a family on Old Ferry Road.  Slowly but surely, his hard work started to pay off.  Within a year, the 26-year-old immigrant had secured enough money and clients to start his own business.

Original facade at 46 Queen Street, now Metro Tailor

Photios decided to put down roots in downtown Dartmouth by purchasing a building at 46 Queen Street, opening Custom Tailors – and flying back to Greece to find a wife. Katherine says he told her, point blank, that finding a woman to share his dream of a life in Canada was the reason he went to the dance in her village. Locking eyes with Katherine, however, was fate.

In March 1970, just weeks after meeting, Photios and Kathrine Keramaris were married in downtown Dartmouth.  A kind local couple, Nan and Dig Nichols arranged for the wedding to take place at Christ Church, with a formal reception at the Belmont Hotel.** Photios even made Katherine’s wedding dress himself.  Katherine says the Nichols remain close friends to this day.

Katherine and Photios on their wedding day in downtown Dartmouth

The newlyweds put all their energy into the business on Queen Street. They created a beautiful life for themselves, working side-by-side in the shop and living in the adjoining one-bedroom apartment.  At first, Katherine worked mostly behind the scenes until she started taking English lessons. She was a quick study in both language and entrepreneurship.  Together, the Keramaris’s built up a booming tailoring business in the community.  One day, they looked at each other and realized, the time was right for expansion - for the business and for their family.  

By the late seventies, Katherine and Photios had four small children. They completed a massive overhaul of the property at 46 Queen Street that resulted in a bigger tailor shop with several additional rental units. (The law firm BoyneClarke was one of the couple’s first tenants.)  By this time, the Keramaris’s had also bought a home on nearby Wentworth Street with a nice big yard for the children to run around in.  Katherine says the years she and Photios spent together building their empire in downtown Dartmouth were filled with love and joy.   

Katherine and Photios in their tailor shop, circa 1980

Katherine’s dream life was shattered on March 15, 1999 with the unexpected passing of Photios to cancer at the age of 60.  She says the loss was so devastating that her only comfort was found in working long hours at the business they’d built together.  She would spend seven days a week at the tailor shop, routinely starting her shift at 7 a.m. and ending in the wee hours of the morning.  Katherine says she still loves to work, but she has slowed down her pace of life considerably:

 “I only work 5 days a week now, 7:30 am to maybe 6:30 pm.” 

Katherine says it is the people who keep her coming back to the shop, day after day, year after year.  She loves to hear the doorbell jingle open, because it almost always means a friend is walking in. 

 “I love people. I really do. If you are kind to me, I’ll be doubly kind to you.  But if you get on my bad side – watch out,” Katherine laughs. 

Katherine says she is proud of what she’s been able to accomplish in her career, so far.  She has no plans to retire for at least another eight to ten years. That’s a relief to her customers who have grown to depend on her services – and her friendship. 

“I tell them, don’t worry.  I’m not going anywhere.  I came in here through the front door, and I’m not leaving until an undertaker carries me out the front door!”

Katherine says Photios would be proud to see how well she has taken care of the business and the family they created together. Her four children are now grown with their own families.  She spends as much time as possible with her loved ones who live nearby.  For the children and grandchildren who live out of province, it is obviously much more challenging to connect as often as she’d like:

“When I can’t see my family, my customers are my family.  Downtown Dartmouth is my home.  More than Greece, more than anywhere, I feel like I belong here.  I never want to leave!”

*Angela’s Tailor Shop closed in 2020 after more than 60 years in business. 

**The Belmont Hotel was located at the corner of Alderney Drive and Octherloney Street where  Belmont House is now located.

Photos courtesy of Katherine Keramaris.

2021 Portrait by James Arthur MacLean Photography

 

 

 

Comments

  • Posted by Dennis Coolen on

    I’ve met Katherine a few times through my work as her properties on Queen st are related toy work. She is exactly as described a very nice kind person with a sense of humor but like she said don’t get on her bad side. Lol. We always talked about the work at hand and other things like her children who she speaks of with great love. She’s told me some of her story but never mentioned her late husband. She is very very proud to be a dartmouthian and proud of her properties. I just adore her!

  • Posted by Melanie Rusinak on

    What a beautiful article
    More stories like this please…
    Wonderful

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