CANDY-MAKING IN HANTSPORT
AND SURROUNDING AREA
1895 – 1978
HISTORY Randy Mosher
Mr. P. Campbell 12-A
During the late 1800’s, anyone who wanted to satisfy their sweet tooth could choose from candy made by Moirs in Halifax and Ganong in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Imported British candy was also popular.1 Both of the Maritime companies were well-established operations that sold their merchandise to wholesalers who, in turn, distributed it to retail outlets.
Just before the turn of the century, George H. Yeaton was employed as a traveling salesman by Moirs. Mr. Yeaton resided in Hantsport at this time. For reasons which are not entirely clear, Mr. Yeaton left Moirs between the years of 1895 and 1897 and proceeded to make candy on his own. Perhaps during his travels Mr. Yeaton had realized the need for a factory in the area which, because of decreased freight charges, could sell its products to local retailers at lower prices.
The original operation began with fifty cents worth or ten pounds of sugar2 and was carried out in a small structure on Station Street in Hantsport. This structure is now a part of a larger building which, until recently, housed a Simpson-Sears catalogue sales outlet and is now occupied by W. G. McGuire Electrical Limited.
At first, Mr. Yeaton made only hard candies and suckers which were sold door-to-door. The demand for these products grew quickly and expansion was soon necessary. Two other buildings on Station Street were purchased and an addition was constructed which effectively joined these buildings into one.3 The candy-making operation was moved into this building and the original company –
George H. Yeaton and Sons Limited – was formed. (See appendix for sons’ names.) The additional floor space and the subsequent increase in staff made the production of various chocolate candies possible.
By 1905, a staff of seven or eight was producing a ton of candy a day.4 This candy was peddled throughout Western Nova Scotia by George Yeaton himself using a horse and wagon. The wagon was a major source of advertising as it displayed the company’s name and products in large letters.5
The year 1905 was important for the candy factory because it signified the opening of Hantsport’s first municipal water system. The water was badly needed, particularly for the cooling of the hard candies.6 Also in 1905, Morris (Moss) Smith began work at the factory. Mr. Smith became an invaluable member of the staff and held the position of foreman when he left the factory in 1941 to pursue candy-making on his own.
George H. Yeaton died in 1908 while driving the candy wagon near Springhill.7 Control of the business was passed on to his son Clarence, who was more commonly known as Clad. Clad Yeaton became a traveler for the company, spreading its name and selling its products throughout Atlantic Canada. Each year, in the fall, he would take a trip to Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton to solicit orders for Christmas candy.8
The workers at the factory were given the responsibility of self-management although Moss Smith performed some of the duties of a supervisor. “The operation was not large enough to pay someone to just supervise, so the foreman was also the head candymaker.”9 This lead to great efficiency and was one of the main reasons for the company’s continued expansion during the early 1900’s.
World War I had little effect on the factory – it only slowed down the growth rate. Prior to 1920, a warehouse and a barn across the street from the factory were bought for storage purposes.10 The original candy wagon was replaced by a larger one-ton model which continued in service until 1939 although it was supplemented by one, then several trucks.11
During the 1920’s, the company began to diversify. A candy store-soda fountain was established on the corner of William and Station Streets. “Homemade” ice-cream was made and distributed to local parlours.12 Fruit syrups used to flavour soda water – the forerunner of today’s soft drinks – became popular. They were manufactured in the slack season between Christmas and Easter.13
The production of chocolate candies continued as the mainstay of the factory, being responsible for almost half of the company’s thirty employees.
The depression of the early 1930’s marked the beginning of a long downhill road for the company. The price of sugar went up; the retail price of candy went down. Chocolate became scarce, forcing the company to concentrate more heavily on the making of hard candies – an operation which required fewer workers. The production of chocolates was also affected by a general decline in the demand for candy – hard candies had a much longer storage life than chocolates and thus could better survive fluctuations in the markets Even with all its problems, the factory did not shut down during the depression.
While the effects of the depression are well-known, there is another, somewhat obscure event which played a role in the eventual decline of the company. Around 1935, Mr. R.A. Jodrey – a prominent Hantsport businessman – saw promise in the factory’s future, assembled a group of interested buyers and attempted to purchase the factory. Their probable intent was to mechanize the operation, either in the existing building or in a totally new structure. The offer was turned down by a general consensus of the Yeaton family.14 At the time, the future of the factory as it existed seemed secure. The effects of the decision against mechanization were not felt until the mid-1950’s,
After the depression, when the price and availability of raw materials began to stabilize and the demand for candy began to increase again, the production of the factory rose to pre-depression levels, This, however, was not 100% of the potential capacity.15 The fault was in the method of marketing the products; the factory distributed its candy directly to retailers by means of several trucks. This was time-consuming and, when viewing the operation of the factory as a whole, expensive and inefficient. The company was bearing the cost of distribution while its competitors sold to wholesalers.
Also in the post-depression period, Yeaton’s became a local distributor for other candy manufacturers – a practice referred to as “jobbing”.16 Candy made by Neilsons, Lowneys and Willards was handled by the company along with products such as Canada Dry ginger ale and Coca-Cola in bulk quantities.
Even with the continued diversification, the financial stability of the company weakened in the years prior to World War II. The depression was relatively kind to the factory itself but dealt harsh blows to the other members of the Yeaton family. Since the factory had been financed by the family, the profits were shared during the period of hardship. This practice had its merits but the factory simply was not large enough to support the drain on its finances. When the ambitious Clad became ill the end was inevitable and the factory was closed in May of 1941.17
For several months the factory lay dormant, the equipment intact, the building boarded up. Control of the company was in the hands of the Canadian Credit Trust Company.18 The warehouse was sold to Canadian Keyes Fibre who regarded the building as useful because of its proximity to a railroad siding.19
In October of 1941, the factory was purchased by Mr. Lee Johnston – a former banker. The name was subsequently changed to Johnston’s Candy Limited. A cleanup period of more than a month – to remove spoiled product and scrub the building from top to bottom – was necessary before thoughts could be turned to making candy.20 Several key employees from the Yeaton era – including Cecil MacDonald, former head candymaker – were rehired so that production could be started early in November, in time to at least partially fill the demand for Christmas candy.
World War II had a profound effect on the factory, mainly because of the sugar rationing. The amount of sugar allotted to the factory was based on the number of employees just before the war – a dismal half dozen.21 Mr. Johnston made many attempts to have the quota increased but had no success. Although the amount of sugar received would keep only six or seven workers employed full-time, more were hired. When the monthly quota of sugar was all used the workers turned to further cleanup, maintenance and even painting of the building. Had the sugary been available, the demand for candy was great enough that the production of the factory could easily have been doubled. During the war chocolate also became scarce. This, along with the rising prices resulted in the production of Easter candies which were hollow.
The practice of jobbing was held-over from the Yeaton era. Candy made by other manufacturers was again part of the picture. Fountain supplies and groceries were also bought and sold but it was the acquisition of several contracts for staples such as razor blades that kept the factory afloat during the war years.22
Between 1945 and 1955 the factory experienced its second and last period of prosperity. When the rationing of sugar was stopped and chocolate was again available in quantity more of the former
Yeaton employees were rehired. Mrs. Minnie Taylor and Mrs. Evelyn Amirault returned to dip chocolates for Mr. Johnston. “They had experience and were experts at their craft.”23 Mrs. Taylor remained with the company until 1962, Mrs. Amirault until 1964.24 All labour-management relations were not as rosy; however, and in 1951 Cecil MacDonald left the factory to make candy on his own.
During the Christmas and Easter seasons the number of employees soared to twenty and beyond.
The question of mechanization was revived with the purchase of a second hand assembly line machine. This machine, powered by electricity, was capable of molding many types of hard candies and suckers. The machine was a success, slashing the time required to produce the candy by two-thirds.25 A machine to make marshmallow also proved to be an asset but a German machine designed to produce the hollow chocolate Easter candies failed, mainly because of a lack of metric parts.
The majority of the candy produced was sold to wholesalers. A retail outlet was established in Halifax but was not successful.26 By 1955, the problem of competition was gradually strangling the life out of the factory. The production of large companies such as Ganong and Moirs had also been limited by the sugar rationing of World War II. When the rationing was stopped, these companies, because they were totally mechanized, underwent an almost explosive period of expansion. Their products infiltrated the whole of Nova Scotia at low prices made possible because of the tremendous quantities. Johnston’s could not hope to match the volume of production nor the prices of its competitors.
From 1955 on the company lost money. The staff shrank to a dozen or so in the early 1960’s. In the fall of 1961, Lee Johnston sold the factory to Lawrence Yeaton, great-grandson of George H. Yeaton. (See appendix for family tree.) There is evidence that sentimental feelings played a role in the actual purchase because several partners, including other family members who provided financing, were involved. The business thus became known as Yeaton’s Candy Limited.
As mentioned before, the factory had no hope of competing with its larger rivals. The tourist trade offered a promising market27 but the cost of distribution was prohibitive. The only option remaining was to satisfy the demand for “homemade” candy on the wholesale market. It was on the basis of this demand that the factory continued operations.
A staff of seven or eight was employed year-round for several years. Lawrence Yeaton became the head candymaker. “I soon lost interest – I had no real desire to make candy.”28 It was not long before the prices paid by the wholesalers – based primarily on products obtained in huge quantities from large, mechanized companies – became insufficient to meet the rising wage scale of the employees. This forced the company into a seasonal operation centered on the Christmas and Easter holidays.
Eventually, the continually rising minimum wage combined with the soaring price of sugar to force the shutdown of the factory after the Christmas rush of 1970. The building and its contents was purchased in 1971 by Albert, Roscoe and Wilfred Tracey. The equipment was sold and the building remained empty with the exception of an upstairs apartment. A recent fire has all but sealed the fate of the structure.
As mentioned previously, Moss Smith began to make candy on his own in the early 1940’s. The operation was a small one-man affair – very similar to the original Yeaton operation – carried out in a room in Mr. Smith’s garage. The production centered on hard candies which were sold to wholesalers. The business, because of its efficiency and lack of labour costs, turned a profit for several years. Around 1950 Mr. Smith suffered a heart attack and could no longer continue the operation; it was sold to Cecil MacDonald in 1951.29
Mr. MacDonald continued the business in Mr. Smith’s garage for a year but soon found that expansion would be necessary to increase profits. In 1953, the operation was moved to a building in Mt. Denson.30 The enlarged operation continued to produce mainly hard candies although sponge toffee and peanut brittle were also made. The year-round staff included Mr. MacDonald (head candymaker), his wife and two other women. During the Christmas season Mr. MacDonald’s son Ralph assisted along with two other women and Mr. Ken Smith of Hantsport.
While wholesalers would have purchased twice the production of the factory, their prices were insufficient to cover the increased labour costs of expansion. For this reason, Mr. MacDonald kept the factory small and, particularly during the 1960’s, catered mainly to the demand for specialized candies. The Candy Bowl Stores in the Halifax area requested products such as huge all-day suckers, some of which were larger than the average dinner plate. The MacDonald factory also supplied the Halifax Shopping Center Santa Claus with thousands of small candy canes each year. Large candy canes, some almost three feet long, were also made.31
During the late 1960’s, the increasing minimum wage scale narrowed the profit margin. In 1970, Mr. MacDonald decided to retire and sell the business. “I had reached age sixty-five. The hours were just too long.”32
The business was bought by Mr. Ken Smith. The operation remained in the Mt. Denson factory for a few years, then was moved to a small structure behind Mr. Smith’s home on Riverview Road in Hantsport. The effect of the rising minimum wage was not felt in the Mt. Denson operation – because of its size – until several years after it had forced the closure of the Yeaton factory. It was, however, the reason behind the move to the smaller structure.
Mr. Ken Smith and his wife continue to produce hard candies on a year-round basis. Some of the molds used were purchased from the Yeaton factory. During the Christmas season the sugar consumption reaches almost one thousand pounds a week.33
The future of candy-making in the Hantsport area seems uncertain. “It’s a job and there’s not many to be had.”34 It is almost certain that chocolate candies will not be produced again in small quantities because of the cost of equipment and labour. Expansion of Mr. Smith’s hard candy operation is also doubtful, again because of labour costs. At least for the near future, Mr. Ken Smith’s operation continues in stark contrast to the other mechanized giants of today.