Ask Alicia – Willy Wonka of St. Catharines

Dear Alicia,

With Halloween just passing and boxes of candy being sold everywhere, it got me thinking about the days when people actually went to a candy maker to get their sweet treats. I was remembering that chocolate store that was located in the building that is now Chocolates etc. on Welland Avenue. Can you tell me about the history of that candy store?

Thanks,

Elizabeth


Thank you for your question Elizabeth.

The store you are referring to was called “Yurchuk Candies” which was owned by Yako

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Steve Yurchuck making candy. Photo Attribution: Joan Yurchuk, St.CM T2005.19.3

w (Steve) Yurchuk. Yakow was born in the Ukraine in 1894 and came to Canada, settling in Brantford in 1913 where began a confectioner apprenticeship.  He went on to work at multiple small candy stores but settled in at the Peacock Candy Shop in Thorold where he made ice cream and candy for 22 years.

 

Ready for a change, Yakow decided to leave the Peacock Shop and move to Dunnville with his wife Anna and son James (Jim – b. 1935). Here he would open a restaurant, however the business was not successful and closed in 1955.  The family returned to St. Catharines and Yakow began working again as a candy maker in Niagara Falls.

In 1960 the Yurchuk’s opened Yurchuk Candies in a building located at 100 Welland Avenue in St. Catharines. The store specialized in its own hand-dipped chocolates. Yurchuk’s made and sold more than 58 different varieties of chocolates plus hard candies and Turkish delights. They also sold roasted peanuts and other nuts. For Easter, Yurchuk’s created over 100 varieties of molded chocolate bunnies, eggs, roosters, assorted animals and people as well as car models and even chocolate shoes! Yurchuk’s also sold small boxes of chocolates for use as favours at weddings and various receptions. Yurchuk’s became well known for the assortment of beautifully hand decorated sweets and the friendly and giving nature of the staff.  Customers travelled from far and wide to purchase sweets.  Local families placed weekly orders as well, and often times the store had to turn down orders because they were so busy they could not make enough chocolate for everyone.

 

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Yurchuk Candy Storefront 2004. Photo Attribution: Joan Yurchuk, StCM T2005.19.12

 

 

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Jim Yurchuk hand stretching candy can mix. Photo attribution: Joan Yurchuk, StCM T2005.19.9

After working various jobs in St. Catharines including: manager of the parts department at Cavers Bros. furniture store, Canadian Tire and briefly on the line at General Motors, Jim decided to learn the family trade and work at the Candy store. Yakow Yurchuk sold the business to his son for $1.00 in 1964. Jim grew passionate about the art of chocolate making.  He always bought the finest ingredients, roasted his own nuts, made his own chocolate, handmade hard candies and candy canes and always tasted the quality of his own work.  The family recipes were never written down, but were memorized and Jim was sworn to secrecy, never sharing the recipes or ingredients with anyone outside the family business. The family also had a rule that they would never use any machines that would diminish the quality of their product and they stood true to that, never purchasing machines that would help them to increase their yield.  In 2003 Jim was quoted as saying: “I keep everything the same. I don’t change the way we do things, I make everything the same as I always have, the way my father and mother did. If it’s good, why change it?”

 

Jim continued to run the family business until his death in November of 2004. After Jim’s death and before the business was sold, Jim’s nephew who owned a chocolate and candy making store in Guelph, worked making chocolates at the St. Catharines Store until the Christmas rush of 2004 was over.

Jim was remembered for the generous way he ran his family’s business. Abe Teichroeb, a neighbour and friend was quoted in the St. Catharines Standard after Jim’s death: “As a store owner, he wasn’t interested in making a lot of money, he just wanted to put a product out there that was the best and earn a living.”  His wife too shared stories with the newspaper about how generous Jim had been, giving away countless free chocolates to all who entered his establishment.  Another extraordinary way he gave back to the community was during every Christmas season Jim would choose a different family and let them go to the store and watch him make candy canes by hand.

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Rows of Easter bunnies. Photo attribution: Joan Yurchuk, StCM T2005.19.19

Yurchuk Candies was sold in late December of 2004 after thriving as a business for 44 years.Another purveyor of fine chocolates, “Chocolates, etc.” subsequently opened at the same location and is still in operation today.

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