Crothers’ products have won over “lovers of good confectionery”


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The streets of Kingston in the late 1860s may have been dirt, dust and mud and the sidewalks made of rough planks, but a trip downtown was a water-soaking experience. stuffy. Founded in 1869, WJ Crothers Co. Biscuit and Confectionery Manufacturers has delighted local and distant customers with delicious delicacies.

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Bakeries and confectioners dotted Kingston’s business district. Henry Dumble was a baker and confectioner in Brock and Wellington streets; Arthur Craig was a baker, confectioner and grocer in Market Square; confectioner Robert Carnovsky had a store on Princess near Barrie Street. Several other merchants also offered delicious treats. As local confectioners flourished, the Crothers brothers quietly entered the market. They made their lavish offerings a sweet and lasting success.

Emigrating from Tyrone, Ireland around 1843, the extended Crothers family settled in Sophiasburg on a 214-acre farm in Prince Edward County. The farm prospered and the family grew. The two older brothers, Hutchinson Crothers and William John (WJ), moved to Kingston and established a biscuit and confectionary factory. Little is recorded of Hutchinson Crothers and his wife, Martha Shanks of Sophiasburg, but several details can be found of WJ Crothers early life.

Born just after his parents, William Crothers and Nancy Grey, arrived on the shores of Quebec, WJ Crothers was raised as a farm boy. The young man left home for New York to take up a job as a machinist, noted Crothers Family history (Our Ontario). The six Crothers brothers and one sister reached adulthood and each found a spouse. In 1870, 27-year-old Crothers married 19-year-old Lizzie Bajus (Mary Elizabeth); she was the daughter of Jacob Bajus of the Bajus Brewery family. Crothers and his wife became parents to seven children – two daughters and five sons.

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In Kingston, the brothers “began in a very humble way with only hand power in their factory,” reported the Daily British Whig on August 2, 1919. Advances in high-pressure boiler engines during the Industrial Revolution provided the response to improving production. methods. “The business quickly grew to such an extent that steam was introduced.”

Within four years of opening, local competition from Crothers jumped to 17 other bakeries and confectioneries. The brothers retaliated by expanding their facilities. A purchase was advertised in the Kingston News of January 27, 1873, “of the stock, fittings and goodwill of the premises recently occupied by A. W. Craig, Market Square, (and) today taken possession”. The Crothers thanked their patrons for their patronage and assured that “our business on Wellington Street will be business as usual”.

The Crothers factory at 207-209 Wellington St. produced dozens of varieties of candies and cookies. (The building now houses the Iron Duke pub on Wellington, as well as apartments upstairs.) The three-story structure featured 25,000 square feet of workspace, with 150 to 200 employees making the delicious products.

Frequently placing small word advertisements in newspapers, Crothers described its ranges of fresh chocolate, as well as strawberry and violet candies and butterscotch chips. He mentioned chocolate-covered nuts and almonds, and that “lovers of good confectionery declare ours ‘excellent'”.

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Advertisements later caught the taste buds of customers with descriptions of “rich and delicious” Italian Eldorado cakes and fruitcakes to be sent abroad at Christmas. “The quality of those sold at Crothers’ King Street Bakery is always reliable.” The store’s phone number in 1917 was easy to remember: just ask for 141.

After 22 years of operating the business with his brother, Hutchinson Crothers retired due to health issues. The company was incorporated in 1906 and named WJ Crothers Company Ltd. The remaining Crothers brother was named president.

“Very few shares were sold and the reason the industry became a liability issue was simply to ensure Mr Crothers’ family would continue the business, should anything happen to its founder. “, reported the Daily British Whig on April 18. 1917.

A shrewd businessman, Crothers expands the factory facilities. Sales soared. “Production has increased severalfold,” reported the Daily British Whig, “and Crothers biscuits are now well known across Canada. Working at full capacity, the factory was still a family business. Crothers remained at the top, with one son participating as sales manager “while another takes care of the manufacturing of the business”.

When the Laurier government proposed Bill 21 in 1910 to reduce government contract hours from 10 to 8 a day, Crothers wrote a letter of objection to Minister of Labor W. L. Mackenzie King. With wages already rising, Crothers wrote that “if a working day has to be shortened by two hours, it will increase the cost of manufactured goods just as much”. The company feared that “the worker would expect the same pay for eight hours as for two hours”.

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The president’s previous succession planning was worth it. WJ Crothers died suddenly on June 22, 1921. His death was recorded as heart-related. A friend of the pastor of Sydenham Street Methodist Church, Crothers was considered “a devoted clergyman”, according to the newspaper. A fervent follower of temperance, the builder was a supporter “of all moral and social movements”. Politically, he was a conservative and “the competent treasurer of the local referendum committee”.

Described as kind and helpful, Crothers was also known for his brusque manners. A devoted husband and father, according to the newspaper, his family was “always in his thoughts”.

Shipped across the country and overseas, Crothers Company products were valued for their superior quality. Shown at exhibitions in Ottawa and Toronto, Crothers delights were also shown at the industrial exhibition in Kingston in 1922. In addition to the delicious Meadow Cream Soda cookies and many other products, two delicious chocolate bars were created , called Oh, Henry! and Oh, Mabel!

But there was a problem with the trademark of Oh, Henry! Crothers filed a trademark challenge against American Williamson Candy Co. for using the same Oh! Henry’s name and a call was also heard. The court delivered its judgment on March 27, 1925. The Canadian firm lost the case.

Recognized by England’s King Edward VIII, the Crothers factory produced Prince of Wales chocolates “by royal appointment from the Prince of Wales”, according to Mike Weber on the Kingston and Canadian Food blog in the city of Kingston. “The Crown has bestowed this recognition on WJ Crothers in recognition of Canada’s services to Great Britain during the First World War.

Surviving many local confectioners and cookie makers of the time, the family factory operated for nearly a century. Producing dozens of types of confectionery and cookies, WJ Crothers Company Ltd. was a great time in Kingston’s history.

Susanna McLeod is a writer living in Kingston.

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