From The Gazette

Hudson

Humbugs are back for the holidays, thanks to Hudson residents

  • John Angus, rear, watches as Lorne Jenkins, left, and his nephew  Jeff Jenkins pour boiling raw candy to cool at Stilwells in Lasalle on Monday December 2, 2013.
    John Angus, rear, watches as Lorne Jenkins, left, and his nephew Jeff Jenkins pour boiling raw candy to cool at Stilwells in Lasalle on Monday December 2, 2013.
    Photo credit: (John Mahoney / THE GAZETTE)

After nearly going out of business this year, Montreal candy maker Stilwells is again making its Humbug candies in time for Christmas, thanks to a Hudson businessman and his wife, the owner of a Pointe-Claire gourmet store.

“People love them — it’s part of their memory,” said Hudson resident John Angus, who is helping to finance the company after its near-shutdown this summer. “One person from B.C. said ‘You know, there are three things that an expat Montrealer remembers —- smoked meat, bagels and Humbugs.”

“It’s just amazing, the memories that people have of this candy,” said Angus’s wife, Toni Cochand, who owns Le Panier in Pointe-Claire.

The candies have been made in Verdun since the Great Depression, when after losing his job Richard Stilwell enlisted his daughters Gladys Stilwell and Kathleen Light to help make and sell fudge.

Gladys would make the fudge, which Richard would sell for a few cents from his bicycle in downtown Montreal, while Light brought candy to the Mount Royal Golf Club.

In 1929, Stilwell was arrested for selling candy without a licence. But sales continued to grow, and in 1933 the family opened a full-time candy store on Wellington St. in Verdun.

After weathering the Great Depression and increasing sales to almost a ton of candy a year, the late-2000s recession forced the store to close in 2009.

Kathleen Light’s son-in-law Lorne Jenkins continued to make Humbugs for a few Montreal stores and for special orders, but by this summer was planning to close down for good.

“He’s a brilliant candy-maker, but he was under-capitalized and he had a lot of mechanical problems,” Angus said of Jenkins.

Cochand and Angus discussed it and Angus worked out a deal to invest in the business and start production again.

The company was making candy again by September, but interest took off after Le Panier included the candies in its new catalogue.

“All of the sudden, all hell broke loose. Out of five calls, four of them will be to order Humbugs — from British Columbia, from all over the place,” Angus said.

“There’s an awful lot of people who knew about them when they were young but they got scarcer and scarcer over time,” Angus added.

Cochand said she had filled orders from across Canada, many from people planning to give the candies to their parents for Christmas.

Still, despite the increase in demand, the company plans to keep manufacturing candy by hand, in the same way that it has since Howie Morenz was leading the Habs to Stanley Cup victory.

“We’re just buzzing along, but we don’t want to make the plant super-modern. We’re going to keep it all handmade — it has a certain je ne sais quoi about it to do it exactly the same way you did in 1929,” Angus said.

That includes the machinery used to roll and cut the candy, which Angus said has been almost unchanged since the family began making Humbugs.

“There’s one piece of machinery that actually cuts the candy. It has a new motor, which is the only concession I’ve seen to modernity at all. The motor for the thing that rolls it into big long logs is an open-armature motor that hasn’t been made since probably the early ’30s, and it’s still running,” Angus said.

Since the store reopened, Jenkins has been digging up old recipes and bringing back candy flavours the company hasn’t made in years.

On Friday, Stilwells finished a batch of licorice-flavoured Humbugs for the first time in about 25 years, Angus said.

Angus said about a third of that batch was snatched up almost immediately by a customer at Le Panier, who said he had been waiting for years for the candies to come back into production.

For a full list of stores selling Humbugs, go to Stilwells website.

14 comments

  1. By Judy Blagden

    Where can I get the Humbugs? At Le Panier in Hudson? I used to buy them at Stillwell’s and then at the Royal Vic Hospital when Stillwell’s closed. I have really missed them! What is the present price and for what weight? I used to buy them for my Mom in On. as well! She adored them!

    Thanks, Judy B.

  2. A family favorite as far back as I can remember… Christmas wasn’t Christmas without humbugs in our stockings! Glad to hear they are still able to stay in business!

  3. Can we go to the store in LaSalle and pick them up? I live right there and everytime I walk by, the store is closed….If we can go to LaSalle, what are the hours?

  4. By spencer aldwinckle

    would love to order 1/2 pound licorice humbugs. How do I order them? Just watched the Winnipeg news about Stillwell’s being back in business in Verdun

  5. By Richard Simons

    I used to buy humbugs at Stillwell’s at W\ellington & Desmarcais Verdun, QC.
    Can’t wait till friends from Ottawa, bring me some in June.

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