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White or Brown Bread? The History of the Canada Bread Company in Sharon

Whenever we go into a grocery store or supermarket, one of the first things we notice is the racks of many different varieties of bread, prewrapped and ready for purchase and consumption. This is very different to how people would have obtained their bread in earlier times. In early Canada, most people would make bread in their own homes. As towns and cities emerged, small bakeries popped up to fill the needs of women who had less time to devote to making their own foods at home. For this week’s food-themed local history exploration, we are going to look at the Canada Bread company and their local ties to Sharon and the surrounding area.

The Canada Bread Company emerged in 1911 with the merger of the five biggest bread companies in Toronto at the time. These companies were: Bredin Bread Company (founded by Mark Bredin), Toronto Bakery, Stuarts Limited, Boyd’s Bakery, and Model Bakery (which was founded by George Weston). The Newmarket Era reported that the amount of money in the company’s coffers was valued at $3,350,000, and that “the company would have its own mills for manufacturing flour”[1]. Upon the completion of this merger, the leaders of these companies agreed amongst themselves that they would not compete in the bread market for ten years.

By the 1930’s the company grew and purchased bakeries in a variety of cities across Ontario, including Kingston, Cornwall, Kirkland Lake, Chatham, and Sudbury. One of the locations to which they expanded was Keswick, to the north of East Gwillimbury. In 1937, the Canada Bread depot which was previously in Keswick got moved to Sharon. The new depot was located on Leslie Street which was immediately south of the St. James Anglican church, however, this building is no longer standing, since it was demolished some years ago. Ken Shaw recalls that when he started at the company in 1939, bread was 8 to 10 cents a loaf, chocolate cakes were sold for 25 cents, and pies retailed for 50 cents each. The average salary for the employees was 23.85 per week, plus commission.[2]

There were 8 summer routes that drivers would use to deliver bread, five of which served the east side of Lake Simcoe as far as Beaverton, and three on the west side as far as Big Bay Point. Canada Bread employed a seasonal supervisor for the summer routes whose name was William (Bill) Houston; he would move his family up from Toronto every year to supervise bread deliveries. His wife, Mrs. Houston, would take in boarders who were University students who were employed to drive the seasonal routes. The summer routes would end on Labor Day weekend, which would revert to four year-round routes for full-time drivers.

In the 1940’s the company rented two large bays from Mr. Raymond Crouch who owned a garage and lunch counter at the corner of Leslie and Main Streets, where the East store is currently located. Salespeople would depart from this location and would sell bread door-to-door to people in the surrounding area. With the growth of new routes in the 1950s, larger accommodations were needed to hold both their delivery cars as well as their bread products. The owner at the time, Howard Morton, built a newer, larger depot on the south side of Mount Albert Road east of Leslie, where Izzy’s Convenience is now located.

By 1966, the company had grown large enough to be unionized by the Teamsters Union, with Art Westgarth of Mount Albert acting as Union Steward. In the act of unionization, they had to determine who would be responsible for certain routes. As a result, all the drivers met at the Legion Hall in Newmarket and were given the option to buy their trucks and routes on credit at a reasonable rate. All the routes were then divided among the drivers, and deliveries occurred on schedule on the following Monday morning. In the late 1970’s, the lease on the Mount Albert Road depot expired, and they moved further down Leslie Street, closer to Davis Drive. This lasted until the late nineties, when they were replaced by the current Newmarket Infiniti car dealership.

The salesmen from Sharon who worked at the Canada Bread company were Fred McCloud, Doug Mount, Doug Blunt, Harvey Miller, Lorne Miller, Bob Houston, Vince Lewis, Albert Harrison, and David Case.

Today, the Canada Bread Company is owned by Grupo Bimpo, a Mexican multinational conglomerate company, and they produce a variety of branded breads, such as Dempsters, Villagio, POM, Bon Matin, Stonemill, and many other regional varieties.

Figure 1: Billboard advertising Canada Bread bread products in the City of Toronto, c. 1931-35. Photo use courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1488, Series 1230, Item 129.

Do you have any memories of working on a bread delivery route, or having bread delivered to your home? Let us know in the comments section below!

[1] [2] Shaw, Ken (1999) “Will that be White or Brown today? The Origin of Canada Bread in Sharon”. In Around Our Town (July/August), Page 4.

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