Sunday, December 8, 2013

Stilwells Humbugs are a Montreal Holiday Tradition

Sweet, sweet humbuggy goodness.

It's simply not Christmas in Montreal without Stilwells humbugs. They are still made completely by hand by a 5th generation member of the Stilwell family.

How to describe the little beauties? These hard, striped candies are a lovely mix of dark brown sugar, pure peppermint oil, butter and black molasses. The recipe originated in England when Richard and Constance Stilwell moved to Montreal back in 1914, and brought the humbug recipe with them to Canada.

The business started right around the time of the Great Depression, with homemade fudge.

Back in 1927, violinist and artist Richard Stilwell lost his job and had to find a new way to look after his family. He didn't want to use social assistance, so he began selling fudge made by his eldest daughter Gladys. 

Daughter Kay sold the bars for a nickel a piece, mostly to caddies at the Mount Royal Golf Club. Richard cycled into Montreal's business sector to sell whole boxes of fudge bars, all fancied up with ribbons, to businessmen. This earned him $2 - $3 a week, at least until he was arrested for selling without a permit.

Not one to give up, Richard along with another daughter Jeanne switched to call-in orders, and they continued to deliver fudge all around town. Conveniently, Jeanne worked at Bell Canada and was able to promote the fudge business with all her contacts at work. Sales grew, and allowed the family to rent space for an actual store within a year. Humbugs and other candies were added to the mix in 1929, and then they set up shop on Wellington Street in Verdun in 1933, where they remained until the move to LaSalle in the late '90s.

It was in August of this year that there was the looming danger of losing this wonderful candy company forever. A collective gasp was heard throughout Montreal, and for a few months, their future was in jeopardy. Then  Le Panier Pointe Claire got involved, and the humble humbugs were back in production once again.

There are all kinds of flavours now, like spearmint, caramel, cinnamon, wintergreen and butterscotch to name a few, but I still like the original humbug best. They're shipped all over the world, from as far away as Europe, Russia, Japan and China.

Connaisseurs of humbugs know that if you leave them out in a bowl, exposed to the air, they will solidify in one solid lump. You pretty much need a chisel to get one loose, but meh, that too is all part of the tradition. Leave them in a bag, and hide them in the back of the cupboard or they'll be gone before you can say "bah, humbug."

If you're looking for places to buy them, you can look up retailers HERE.

I know for sure they're available at Le Panier in Pointe Claire Village, Westmount Stationary on Sherbrooke St. in Westmount as well as the Montreal General Hospital and St. Mary's hospital because as we all know, if you're sick, nothing makes you feel better faster than a humbug!

To watch them being made, have a look at this news report:

No comments: