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Grant’s Bakery quietly marks 75th anniversary during pandemic year

Sarah Rennie

Baking through a pandemic has now been added to the storied history of Huntingdon’s Grant’s Bakery, which this year had to indefinitely set aside plans to celebrate its 75th anniversary, due to COVID-19. As one of the region’s longest-running bakeries, Grant’s Bakery continues to rely on a recipe of traditional baking techniques and solid values that has seen the family-run business develop new products and expand its market, all while remaining true to a promise of homemade quality and freshness.

 

Henry Grant who started the original Grants Bakery out of his garage in 1932 PHOTO Courtesy of Grants Bakery

 

Humble beginnings

Founder Henry Grant travelled to Canada from Acton, Middlesex, England at the age of 11, arriving in Halifax on April 21, 1888, as part of a group of young people bound for Sherbrooke, Quebec. He became a baker and settled in Lennoxville with his first wife Eliza Robertson, who passed away in 1917. He married Clara Louise Phipps a year later. In 1929 he moved his sizeable family to Huntingdon after having been hired as an assistant chef at the new Château hotel. His son Charlie went to work there as well as a busboy at the age of 10. Following his time at the Château, Henry Grant worked as a hotel chef in Newfoundland briefly before returning to Huntingdon to work for Tedstone’s Bakery.

 

At one time the bakery also supplied Wonder Bread to its customers Charlie Grant is shown here with the delivery vehicle of that era and below delivering an order to a home PHOTO Courtesy of Grants Bakery

 

After he was let go two weeks before Christmas, Henry bought a portable oven and started his own bakery out of the garage in 1932. Bread then sold for 8 cents a loaf with buns or rolls selling for 10 cents a dozen. Charlie was the bakery’s first salesman, making deliveries to individual homes first by bicycle and then by horse and bakery wagon, with Queenie the horse knowing the route by heart. The bakery changed addresses on Chateauguay Street a number of times. By 1945 Grant’s had gone in and out of business on several occasions as times were tough and ingredients were rationed and sometimes even impossible to get.

Then, when Charlie returned after the war, where he had served with the Air Force bomber command, he and his brother Gordon opened their own bakery located behind the family home at 32 Hunter St. Their brother Howie, who was widely known as a hockey great in the 1930s, competing overseas in Prague and in Italy as well as in Canada and the U.S., also played a part in the development of the family bakery.

In February 1963, the bakery, which by then had grown into a successful business, was moved to its present location on Roosevelt St., which had previously housed a carpet factory.

 

Gordon Grant who partnered with his brother Charlie to open their own bakery behind the familys home on Hunter Street before the bakery moved to its current location on Roosevelt Street PHOTO Courtesy of Grants Bakery

 

Charlie’s son Richard started working for the bakery at the age of 18, on the delivery route around the lake in Saint-Anicet. He would become a part-owner in 1975 following the passing of his father.

The bakery is now run by Richard and his wife Beatrice, as well as two of their four daughters, Sarah and Ruth-Anne, who joined the business in 2003. Ruth’s husband Michael Krause has also since joined the bakery, and their two young daughters Makayla (13) and Avery (11) are already in training.

Fruitcake and more fruitcake

Along with its breads, doughnuts, cakes and pastries, Grant’s Bakery has long been associated with fruitcake. It was in 1980, when the bakery was producing a few thousand pounds of fruitcake per year that “we decided to run with it,” says Beatrice. “Business came to us,” she says, referring to service groups such as the Lions Club, which was were looking for a supplier for their annual fundraisers. “It snowballed from there,” she laughs, “from 10-12,000 pounds to 350,000 pounds.”

 

Richard Charlie and Gordon Grant at the bakery in 1978 PHOTO Courtesy of Grants Bakery

 

To put that in context, the bakery now produces between 200,000 and 220,000 units of fruitcake (including plum puddings and cherry cakes) per year, with their production usually starting in June to meet the demand. “A good production for us in a day is 1,700 to 2,200 cakes,” says Ruth, who notes that this year the team at the bakery was baking, packaging and labeling about 375 to 400 cakes per hour. “Every cake is still glazed, put in tins and labelled by hand,” she says proudly. “It gives our products a personalized touch.”

The bakery has also seen the demand for other elements in their Christmas line increase tremendously over the last few years, such as shortbread cookies. “We have organized a production where we can do just under 3,000 packages in a day,” says Richard. And this, he is quick to mention, is not automated. The cookies are all packaged by hand.

Emphasis on tradition

“We are probably one of the last of our kind in Quebec,” Beatrice says, referring to the traditional baking techniques and processes at the heart of the bakery. The bread for the dough and pastries is still rolled, cut and weighed by hand. “The only thing we have that is not manual is the mixer and the oven to bake the fruitcake,” says Sarah. “We do not have machines to replace people,” she adds, noting how her father’s well-worn hands from kneading dough are also high-tech sensors that can now tell what is wrong with the dough in seconds and just by touch. “It’s an art,” she smiles.

Grant’s Bakery still uses a 1946 Baker Perkins oven with 21 shelves, that they purchased in 1963. This year, one of the main bushings broke, and they had to stop using the oven until it could be repaired. Bread was baked in the fruitcake oven, and they had to rejig schedules to get all the other baked goods out without interfering with the fruitcake production. When asked why they haven’t considered replacing it, Beatrice responded simply that there is just something about that oven. “All those years of aromas baked into the bricks – it has an atmosphere,” she says with a laugh, recalling that they had been having issues with their sticky buns all summer and that the problems disappeared as soon as the bushing arrived in October.

Quality control

Despite the tried and true traditions that make the bakery and its products so special, Grant’s Bakery is constantly investing time, energy and resources into product development. The family chuckles about the amount of fruitcake they have bought and tasted over the years – “a raisin isn’t just a raisin,” quips Ruth, who talks passionately about the importance of texture and mouth feel when it comes to enjoying their products. They produce all of their own fillings and source their ingredients as locally as possible. “We really don’t chintz on the quality,” she says.

 

The family business now includes owners Beatrice and Richard Grant their daughter Sarah as well as their daughter Ruth and husband Michael Krause and granddaughters Makayla and Avery PHOTO Courtesy of Grants Bakery

 

Sarah, who studied food science, is responsible for making sure the bakery maintains quality while responding to new changes to food regulations, including traceability, and the technological advancements happening outside of production that need to be incorporated into the business as well. There is also the fact that ingredients are changing, and they don’t all perform in the same way.

The family admits the introduction of a federal ban on trans fats in 2018 by Health Canada threw their whole production into question, especially of fruitcake. “Our supplier offered a replacement (for the shortening) but the results were not there,” says Beatrice. “It came as such a surprise to us,” she recalls, as the consistency was not the same and the cakes would sometimes crumble. In 2019, the family invested a large amount in research and development to find the recipes and procedures they needed to ensure the quality of their products matched their reputation. The results are now a company secret.

Pandemic mayhem

With the fruitcake recipe secured, the Grants were preparing for a smooth 2020 season with several activities including an open house planned to celebrate their 75th anniversary. Nowhere in their planning had they allowed for a global pandemic that would wreak havoc with fruitcake orders. Spring was difficult. The start of production was delayed to July after grocery store orders finally came in. But orders for groups and organizations have been erratic and often smaller in size. Meanwhile the local demand for their standard baking products such as bread and buns (including a new line of breads with no additives), as well as doughnuts and pastries, has shot up with the pandemic. The bakery has seen a 25 to 35 per cent increase in sales, and all within a radius of around 60 kilometres, as Quinn Farm in Île-Perrot is the farthest they travel to deliver their products.

After 54 years at the bakery, Richard still has fun every day, even though that day sometimes begins at 3:30 a.m. to start the doughnuts. With four generations of experience, it’s obvious that family plays as much of a role in the success of the bakery as the practices and traditions that have been handed down from very humble beginnings. It also helps that after all this time, the Grants still love a good fruitcake.

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22 Comments

Matthew Burton 2021-01-10 at 23:53

I worked there as as a student in 1993 and went on the get my diploma as a pastry chef and then as a culinary chef. I have been working the the food industry ever since. Thank you to the Grant family to for the training and support through the years..

Reply
Matthew reid 2021-01-10 at 13:29

Congratulations. 27 years ago I worked at the bakery for a summer job. I have happy memories of going in early to help make the bread. Richard was always there in the morning and always in great spirits
Thanks matthew reid.

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Denis Tully 2021-01-02 at 10:51

I have been privileged to eat Grant Bakery products for at least 65 years
Love the donuts, cookies, bread, fruit cake
Love the bakery and the helpful staff
Love the Grant family for their commitment to family, friends and community
Love my times in Huntington
Thanks for all the years I have had the pleasure of enjoying your bakery.

Reply
Ann Davies 2020-12-19 at 09:29

We have enjoyed reading the history of Grant’s Bakery & indeed remembering the wonderful bakes we sampled when visiting my cousin Jean & husband Geordie in Huntingdon in 1994.
Many happy memories!
Ann & John Canterbury, Kent UK

Reply
Bernice Reid 2020-12-16 at 14:22

Congratulations on this very special Anniversary.All of your products are phenomenal to say the least.
My wedding cake came from Grants in 1961.
Best wishes for the next 75 years
Bernice Reid

Reply
Marilyn Jackson 2020-12-08 at 15:51

So glad we live close enough to buy your delicious products. My family won’t eat any other kind of bread. Congratulations for carrying on the business with dedication and ingenuity to conquer the hurdles. Hope the future generation will continue the trend.

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John Beaudoin 2020-12-07 at 13:05

As soon as the borders reopen, my brother Gerald Beaudoin will be sending some of your incredible raisin bread. It is by far, the “best” raisin bread I haver ever tasted. I have tasted many and your raisin bread is absolutely the very best best.

Reply
Deb Higgins 2020-12-04 at 16:18

Born in H’don too and also have delicious memories. Congrats!!
Deb Higgins

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Jane Buschhausen 2020-12-04 at 15:09

Although we have heard some stories in the past, I enjoyed reading of the generations of family members who continue the family bakery. We have been so lucky to enjoy the delicious cakes and treats via Bonnie & Bob. We will all miss Florida this year and the fruitcake they so loving bring to share with friends each year. Congratulations on celebrating 75 years of tradition despite governmental challenges and look forward to many more in the future. You make Holiday Season merry for many – may you all
enjoy some family time during this pandemic holiday.
Jane & John

Reply
Merlene Sibley 2020-12-04 at 11:12

I grew up in Huntingdon and remember the excitment of going to Grant’s Bakery with my Dad, Merrill Smith. The aromas were mouthwatering! Best doughnuts ever!

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Lori Smythe 2020-12-04 at 06:33

What an Awesome story, congratulations on 75 years!

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Maryse Smith 2020-12-03 at 13:02

I was born and raised in Huntingdon now loving in the Laurentians every occasion I have to pas in or around town I make sure to stop in for cookies and donuts. Wish you many more years.

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Susan Ritter 2020-12-03 at 12:26

Bonnie and Bob Normand are our upstairs neighbors in Naples Florida. We LOVE the Grant cherry cake, it just isn’t Christmas without it. is it possible for us to make arrangements to ship one to Naples Florida? Of course, we will pay shipping.

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Betty Ling ( McEwen) 2020-12-03 at 11:12

Wow great story. Wish you made deliveries to Ottawa. Brings back memories of your family and growing up in Ormstown. My parents are Donald and Jean McEwen (Perkins) Congratulations to all.
Betty McEwen

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Nancy Grant 2020-12-03 at 09:06

Sending love to my brother, Rick, who was born into the bakery business and therefore has been part of it everyday of his life. To me, he has carried on the high quality, tasty traditions with the personal touch and generosity of my father, Charlie. Not an easy feat especially when it requires reinventing all the recipes according to ingredient changes and government regulations. Bravo to all the Grant family who ‘stand fast’ weathering the changing times with ingenuity, fortitude, hard work and delicious stuff!

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Teri Smythe 2020-12-03 at 07:10

Congratulations!!!

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Heather Tannahill Carey 2020-12-03 at 07:01

Congrats on this milestone. I have great memories of Grants Bakery.

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Elizabeth Chapman 2020-12-03 at 06:56

Beautiful life story and so happy to see the generation continues.
Yes change of ingredients keeps you on your toes.
Love to see a family business continue.
Happy 75 years
Best if luck during this pandemic Holiday season!
Elizabeth Chapman

Reply
Mojo Stocker 2020-12-03 at 01:41

I was born and raised in Huntingdon PQ , now living in Vancouver BC . I remember when my Dad Leo St-Onge got paid he brough home fresh doughnuts and fresh bread ,from Grant Bakery what great memories sitting around the table and enjoying each bites . He also brough home old bread for the horses every one was feed and happy . Thank you and Congradulation on your 75th . Be happy and stay safe !
Marjolaine

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sheila vaincourt 2020-12-02 at 22:40

nice life time story

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Renee caza 2020-12-02 at 21:50

Great food ! Great people!
Congratulations on your 75th anniversary!

Reply
Cheryl 2020-12-02 at 20:37

Congratulations to the Grant Bakery.
It’s hard to find a bakery like theirs everything is delicious
Thanks for being there during this difficult time.

Reply

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