Christmas Sweet Treats on Front Street
Author: Connie Carson
Connie is a well-known local story-teller and professional who has a passion for the history of the City of Belleville, in particular, the downtown streets.
Joe Legault’s Candy Store
Joe Legault opened his quaint little store front in 1909 and ran a very friendly and successful business for over forty years before retiring. The building was located at 4 East Bridge Street in Belleville and was conveniently tucked in between a Laundry to the west and a Shoe Repair
Shop to the east.The current building sits on the four corners and currently the location is now home to the TD Bank.
Customers entered the small store through a door to the right of the display window and immediately to the left they would see a delightful glass counter similar to a roll top desk with sliding glass doors where the where delicious homemade candy was displayed.
Picture the scene at Christmas time; being greeted at the front of the store by a row of huge suckers on wooden sticks; four foot candy canes sticking out of a big wooden barrel candy stand and the sweet smells of taffy wafting through the shop. The store was gaily decorated for the holiday season and full of Christmas cheer and good will.
Belleville resident Jack Murphy recalls his grandfather, Michael Lynch who had guessed the correct weight of a monster cane sitting in the store window and won the candy cane for his grandson for a Christmas present. It was a very happy Christmas for young Jack because no one in his family had ever won anything before!
The Legault ice cream was handmade in the basement by Joe’s wife Pearl and the locals waited patiently all around the block for their legendary cones from Joe and Pearl. The basement also held a large hook for pulling taffy and there was a small cosy room at the back of the store where the men gathered around a small table to share stories spanning two world wars, the Spanish Flu pandemic the Roaring 20’s, prohibition and so much more…right
here in downtown Belleville!
Weese’s Candy Store
Ralph Weese was a true life candy man who LOVED making candy…especially at Christmas time! This was the only time of year he made his famous Clove Apple Candy and it consisted of a big hard striped very hot tasting candy shaped like a ball and looked like an apple with a clove stem. Regulars at the store including Maude Dempsey, Jean Thompson and her sister Helen were big fans of this treat and were the first in line to buy bags of them.
The giant two foot tall candy canes and red cinnamon and green spearmint humbugs were also favourite items at Christmas. An employee, Hazel Masterson joked about the candy canes saying ‘you could use them to walk with, but they’re kinda sticky’.
It really was an art form to concoct these humbugs; striped on the outside, and clear in the centre It would be easy to mix up the 16 stripes but the candy maker extraordinaire never did!
Other specialties made on the spot included humbugs, butter kisses maple creams, log cabins. chocolate fudge, chocolate ginger and dozens of other candies. Peanuts were roasted only on Fridays and were a big hit with the kids, their parents, the firehall gang next door and Ralph’s hunting and fishing buddies.
The melt in your mouth sponge taffy was one of my very favourite treats as well as the delicious chewy taffy. Mr Weese would take his little hammer and break me off some pieces to put in my brown paper bag making me a very happy little girl! He and his wife Ruth would also pretend I was helping them by attempting to pull the long ropes of taffy that hung on hooks, swinging them around and around until they turned a light amber colour. I mostly got to stand on a little stool and turn the rope of taffy occasionally. He was a wonderful and very kind and funny man with lots of patience for a curious little pigtailed girl who followed his every move. My reward for all my hard work was a great big slice of fresh gooey fudge!
There were three or four tables for customers to sit and eat ice cream at, and a tobacco store inside where the men gathered to share stories and smoke. Roasting peanut smells permeated the air as Mr Weese stirred his chocolates and candies in the kitchen at the back of the store every day of the week except in the summertime.
He used a little coal burning stove that he called his Candy Furnace, copper kettles and grey enamel pots of different sizes to boil the candy in. There was a flat slab of limestone on the table where he poured out the candy to cool it down and when he discovered I had roots in Point Anne he told me the story of the limestone coming from the Point Anne quarry .
Ralph Weese started his apprenticeship for making candy when he was 16 years old and worked at his chosen profession for 63 years before retiring. He was an avid fisherman and could often be seen dropping a fishing line in the Moira River behind his store. This memorable candy store was located at 392 Front Street next to the old #2 Firehall in downtown Belleville.
The Nut House
Customers remember the tiny downtown storefront at 285 Front Street for many reasons but especially for the delicious aroma of roasting nuts and caramel corn that wafted onto the street from as far as three doors down You couldn’t walk down the street and not be tempted by the smell of freshly roasted nuts, or freshly popped.stirred and still sticky caramel corn.
Irene Roluf Drew was known as one of their favourite customers and she came into the store for a 5 or 10¢ paper bag of peanuts every week. She would stop and visit for a bit with the owners before heading back to her own Front Street store.
Gerry O’Connor was another long time customer and friend who stopped in for fresh roasted cashews twice a week, stop to chat with everyone he knew and then head back to his jewellery store of Front Street.
As a little girl I can close my eyes and recall the intoxicating smells of nuts roasting and popcorn popping; especially the hot buttered popcorn served in a white paper bag that I could smuggle into the McCarthy Theatre just across the street.
The early morning sunshine would find an employee standing in the corner of the store roasting peanuts In a small amount oil, putting heat lamps on the nuts to keep them warm and someone else popping corn in another area.
Tidy bins full of nuts, pistachios, peanuts and cashews were stored along one wall and glass shelving on the left side of the store displayed a dizzying array of candied nuts and other delights.
The pretty little store was very narrow and only about 30 ft deep. The inside and outside of the store was painted white and looked scrubbed clean at all times. It was beautifully decorated for the Christmas season with boughs of evergreen and sprigs of holly and mistletoe everywhere. The sweet smell of warm apple cider and the sound of Christmas carols through the open doorway had customers lined up to enter. It was a favourite spot for carollers to gather and the owners welcomed them with open arms.
Quote from Gerry O’Connor when asked if he knew where the nuts came from
“I know where they went..In my stomach. But I do not know from whence they came.”
Acrobat…The Elegant Indulgence
When Ray Twink- Watson, a former circus performer and champion figure skater came downtown to ‘sweeten things up’ he did it in an elegant way; by opening a chocolate store at 215 Front Street. Not only did he make his own chocolate and candy bar treats he also created decadent chocolate wedding cakes by request.
He often told his customers ‘Research tells us that 14 out of 10 customers like chocolate and that’s what keeps me going’ while flashing his trademark mischievous smile. The store was designed so that a customer felt they were walking through a secret passageway into chocolate heaven! He concocted fabulous chocolate creations from one of a kind truffles to molded chocolate carvings never before seen in Belleville.
He loved to weave a story around every piece of chocolate he created and would tell the customer to let a piece of chocolate melt on your tongue and you are immediately whisked away to wherever your favourite place in the world may be.
Christmas time was heaven at this fascinating storefront in the downtown area: fairy lights would twinkle from the tree, the scent of pine wood mixed with rich chocolate greeted customers at the shop entrance and Christmas melodies floated throughout the interior. Shopping at this lovely store truly did feel like a sublime assault on the senses. Unfortunately this truly unique store on Front Street ended up closing around 2007.
Christmas on Front Street was the very best time of year when I was growing up. The sights, sounds, hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers,, the Christmas bells ringing, snow falling gently and fragrant smells of this magical wonderland will live in this young girls heart forever!