Imagine being the youngest daughter in a family that has run the oldest candy factory in the country for five generations—the fantasies of school-wide envy and infinite chocolate supplies that might evoke. Now CEO of Canadian Ganong Chocolates, Bryana Ganong, the great-granddaughter of company founder G.W. Ganong, still recalls satisfyingly Willy Wonk-ian aspects of her youth in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, where Ganong Chocolate Factory first opened in 1873. “We lived by the old brick factory, and every morning I’d walk to school and the whole town smelled like whatever they were making that day—caramel or mint or cream” she recalls. Yet hers are not the only memories shaped by Ganong: “We love hearing stories about how people associate our products with their memories,” she explains. “People still remember certain tastes and smells, so we try to keep our recipes traditional. We still make Chicken Bones by hand.” (Indeed, the famous chocolate-stuffed cinnamon hard candies are pulled individually from a sticky, hot-pink mass of warm sugar, as they have been for the last 130 years).
Canada may not have a reputation for its chocolate manufacturing the way, say, Switzerland does, yet the Maritimes were a shipping hub for sugar, spices, and molasses imported from the Caribbean around the turn of the century, and as a result, the confectionery industry historically flourished. Bryana points out Ganong Chocolates introduced several innovations to the Canadian market, including chocolate bars (the company asserts their Pal-o-Mine bar was the first wrapped chocolate bar in North America) and heart-shaped boxes. “A whole floor of the factory was dedicated to making boxes,” says Ganong. “We had ones that looked like jewellery boxes, ones designed for ladies to store gloves in after eating the chocolates … and the first heart-shaped box was actually for Christmas: it had a holly motif on it. It wasn’t until the thirties [that] Valentine’s Day became a bigger celebration and the heart took off.” England’s Cadbury deserves the credit for inventing the world’s first heart-shaped box of chocolates, but it was Ganong’s red felt hearts that Canadian lovebirds first exchanged in the interwar years, and what’s that if not a sweet memory?
Originally published February 12, 2016.