The rise and fall of bakeries and home baking in Kawartha Lakes

By Ian McKechnie

Bill Gill, whose father Herb ran a bakery in Bobcaygeon.

The wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread wafts from the inner sanctum of A.B. Terry’s bakery, confectionery, and restaurant at 117 Kent Street in downtown Lindsay.

The loaves emerging from Terry’s state-of-the art ovens represent only one of the many offerings found in this hunger-inducing establishment — it’s the middle of June, after all, and the wedding season is fast approaching. Anyone getting married in this year of 1901 will want to select one of the stylish wedding cakes which have made Terry famous far and wide across Victoria County.

Tom Humphries, the bread man.

A dainty display of delicious delicacies graces the window, through which lunching patrons see a horse-drawn bread wagon from William McWatters’ bakery make its way down Kent Street. McWatters and his son operate a bakery over yonder in the east ward, with an oven capable of churning out 400 loaves of bread at a time. McWatters and Terry are just two of the many bakers making the mouths of local residents water with warm and fresh goods at the turn of the 20th century.

Let’s pause the picture there and fast forward almost seven decades. It’s late August of 1967, and the famously nostalgic Ford Moynes pens a column for the Lindsay Daily Post in which he laments the dearth of home baking. “In very few farm homes today can be smelled the wonderful aroma of home made bread,” Moynes wistfully writes. Mass-produced loaves wrapped in plastic bags and purchased 10 or 15 at a time mark the end of an era in Ford Moynes’ imagination.

Or did it? Pause the picture yet again and fast forward another 50-plus years. It’s the middle of April, 2020. Yeast is almost impossible to find in the local grocery stores. “We have a limited flour supply” has become a familiar message. Social media feeds light up with pictures of concoctions that would make A.B. Terry and William McWatters proud.

Home baking, it seems, has made a triumphal comeback, at least while people isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This rise in Canadians baking up a storm brings to mind memories of bakeries and bakers long gone.

For Rae Fleming of Argyle, the bread from Southern’s Bakery in Cannington left an indelible impression.

“They must have been using unbleached flour, which meant that the bread was pale yellow,” Fleming remembers. “Of course I knew that bread should be pure white, so I was embarrassed when I opened my sandwiches at school lunch hour. Of course what I may not have realized is that most of my fellows at S.S. No. 1 Eldon, in Lorneville, also opened sandwiches wrapped in Southern Bakery waxed paper. Now I bake bread more or less in the style of that long-gone bakery.”

(Baking has a long history in Fleming’s clan. Years before, when his maternal grandmother ran out of bread, she resorted to making bannock – a traditional food favoured by her Scottish ancestors.)

Herb Gill operated a small bakery on Bolton Street in Bobcaygeon from the mid-1930s through at least 1944. Herb’s son, Bill (pictured here as a child outside the bakery) remembers his father rising shortly after midnight to begin preparing the yeast. Early mornings of labour-intensive kneading resulted in nothing but the freshest bread for Bobcaygeon.

In Lindsay, no trip downtown was complete without a pilgrimage to Graham’s Bakery, at 100 Kent Street. “You used to have to line up at the counter to be waited on,” remembers Barb Truax.

“They made the best honey-dipped doughnuts in the world!” says Pat Keenan, who regularly stopped in on his way home from the Rotary swimming pool as a youngster. Chelsea buns topped with cherries and cashews were another highlight, he said.

“My absolute favourite was a tie between the cherry loaf and icing-topped chop suey loaf!” recalls Mary Lou Tompkins, for whom the squeaky screen door and aroma of freshly baked bread made entering Graham’s an experience akin to “entering a warm, welcoming, cozy home.”

Said Nicki Dedes, “I remember walking in to buy chocolate éclairs, my fave.”

Graham’s, like bakeries in most small towns, was an institution. But the wonderful world of baking extended well beyond the bakery door and out into the countryside courtesy of bread men, like the late Tom Humphries.

Humphries, who once worked at the Trent Valley Bakery on Victoria Avenue in Lindsay, supplied bread and sundry baked goods to residents in rural Thorah, Mariposa, and Eldon Townships for more than 30 years.

“Bread was delivered right to our house,” remembers Humphries’ daughter, Marion Puffer. “At six in the morning, he would load his truck and start out at 8 a.m.” Tom Humphries travelled about 160 kilometres a day and would often not be home until late in the evening.

Tom Humphries’ pickup truck, like A.B. Terry’s window and William McWatters’ oven, is long gone. Yet, following in their tracks are Kawartha Wholesale Bakery, the Little Pie Shack, Mickaël’s Café Librairie, Kawartha Shortbread, Southpond Farms, Mennonite and Amish bakeries and others which continue to supply us with our daily bread — or doughnuts and éclairs.

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