Those were the days


I re­cently scoured our kitchen cup­boards for a bag of Pu­rity hard bread. I even­tu­ally found a par­tial bag, with three loaves in­side. Just enough for a meal of fish ‘n brewis.

Ever since my doc­tor told me I’m a di­a­betic, I’m sup­posed to go easy on cer­tain food choices, in­clud­ing this well-known dish. Still, from time-to­time, I pre­pare this meal which, I tell all and sundry, is “ fit for a king.” The pack­ag­ing tells me the hard bread is low fat and choles­terol free. Can’t say the same for the salt fish, though.

Speak­ing of salt fish, I need to visit my lo­cal bank later this week, to see if I can ar­range for a mort­gage to buy a bit for the meal I’m plan­ning. While think­ing about fish ‘n brewis, I was re­minded of a doc­u­ment I have in my keep­sakes folder. It’s a whole­sale price list for Pu­rity prod­ucts from April 1951. I pulled it out for this col­umn.

Pu­rity Fac­to­ries, Ltd. was lo­cated at the cor­ner of Hamil­ton and Brine Streets in St. John’s. There was a ware­house at Mundy Pond, as well as a Canada Dry plant.

“Pu­rity prod­ucts please par­tic­u­lar peo­ple,” we are told. “ They are sk­il­fully made from the high­est qual­ity in­gre­di­ents and sell quickly with good profit to the re­tailer.” The com­pany had as its motto “qual­ity first,” and its aim “sat­is­fac­tory ser­vices.” Pu­rity prod­ucts are listed un­der sev­eral head­ings.

Con­fec­tionary prod­ucts, which head the list, in­clude cli­max pep­per­mint nobs and kisses (mo­lasses, but­ter­scotch, rum and but­ter, peanut but­ter, ba­nana and caramels). There are bot­tled sweets, in­clud­ing “drops” (acid, black cur­rant, cough, cherry, co­coanut, lemon, orange, pineap­ple and rasp­berry). There are candies, in­clud­ing but­ter­scotch crunch, licorice stick, raisin chew, cable sticks, union squares, cre­mola bars, spit­fires, bolly wops, twin rab­bits, won­der rolls and robin eggs. There are even im­ported candy ( jor­dan jel­lies, spiced strings, pearled peanuts, fudge peaks, canasta mixed, har­mony jells, sitting hens, ban­tam eggs and chocolate flap­per eggs). There are chocolate bars ( but­ter­milk, co­coanut and eat- m-up). There are candy in pack­ages (as­sorted caramels, french creams and jelly drops) …

… I’m back. Had to stop typ­ing for a mo­ment and wipe the drool from my key­board.

There are jams ( par­tridge­berry, ap­ple, orange mar­malade, apri­cot, dam­son, goose­berry, plum, rasp­berry and straw­berry). There are ice cream cones. There are Pu­rity bis­cuits, sub­di­vided into sweet bis­cuits (dad’s cook­ies and grandma’s cook­ies) and plain bis­cuits (baby cream crack­ers, cream crisp and re­gal so­das). There is both hard bread and sweet bread. There are but­ter flakes, milk lunch, and fancy bis­cuits in cel­lo­phane pack­ages (marsh­mal­low dain­ties, jelly wafers, nu­tri­tious fruit and maple leaf creams).

There are Canada Dry bev­er­ages, in seven ounce, pint and quart quan­ti­ties. Some of the soda flavours are lemon, grape, lime, cream, orange, cherry and spur. There is a Tom Collins mixer and hi-spot. There are syrups and lime juice. There is even vine­gar (“cel­e­brated for its flavour and aroma”).

Fi­nally, there is cod liver oil with malt ex­tract. I per­son­ally am well ac­quainted with this gaw­daw­ful prod­uct. Ac­cord­ing to com­pany ad­ver­tis­ing, it was “ pop­u­lar with young and old.” Now that’s a bold­faced lie! My si­b­lings and me were force-fed this con­coc­tion five days per week when we were kids, and a worst taste could hardly be imag­ined, es­pe­cially when the vile taste re­turned as burps through­out the school day.

My late fa­ther worked at Pu­rity Fac­to­ries. Ac­cord­ing to a ledger, found among his per­sonal pa­pers af­ter his death, he started work­ing there on Sept. 29, 1939, mak­ing boxes and cov­ers in the bak­ery.

He re­ceived his first pay on Oct. 6, a grand to­tal of $9.89 which, I sup­pose, was not too bad at the time. By the end of Novem­ber, he was work­ing 54 hours per week. On Dec. 22, he re­ceived a Christ­mas gift from the com­pany, $ 4.50. By March 1940 his rate of pay per hour was 20 cents. He got a five-cent and two-cent raise on July 5, 1940 and May 9, 1941 re­spec­tively. On Oct. 3, his rate per hour in­creased to 30 cents.

By Aug. 26, 1944, when he re­ceived his fi­nal pay, be­fore go­ing to Toronto to at­tend col­lege, he was mak­ing 44 cents per hour. The com­pany also gave him a go­ing-away gift, $8.80. Liv­ing high on the hog!

I once said to Dad, “ It must have been nice to live in the good old days.” I ex­pected him to agree with me but, in­stead, he re­sponded, “My son, the good old days weren’t all that good.” Af­ter writ­ing this col­umn, I’m in­clined to agree. Still, though, I would like to taste a few of the candy on the Pu­rity price list.

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