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.
DICKENS TEA ROOM AND BAKERY
The aroma of freshly baked bread and baked goods have been woven into the fabric of our history of downtown Belleville for generations.
Dickens and Son Tea Room takes us back in time to around 1887 at 215 Front Street. The street numbers on Front Street were changed for some long lost reason and not always accurate. The population had more than doubled in the past 10 years and business was booming.
The Dickens family ran a thriving shop for four generations at the back of the building plus a popular 110 seat restaurant at the front until 1953 when it was sadly destroyed by fire.
Jack Dickens, was the last member of the family to take over the business. His background in drawing and painting enhanced his decorating skills and he was renowned for designing the beautifully decorated wedding cakes that became a popular addition to the bakery section of the shop.
The Tea Room and Bakery were most memorable in part due to the impressive ornate brick fireplace where everyone gathered for interesting conversation with the community. It was the central hub for the daily dessert and gossip group that crowded the streets in downtown Belleville at the time.
Specialty items included chocolate eclairs, cream puffs, butterscotch tarts, and a large array of cakes. Homemade ice cream was a big seller as well as the chocolate confections.
The Belleville Theatre Guild held their very first conceptual meeting in a gathering room at the front of the building and it soon became their regular meeting spot.
The female employees wore starched white dresses with a white collar and little white lace hats while the male employees sported dapper black suits and jaunty black caps.
In 1939, at the start of World War II, Reg, Doug, and Helen Reddick took over Reddick’s Bakery from National System of Baking. The shop was located at 304 Front Street and it later moved to 291 Front Street.
Their day started long before most of the good people of downtown Belleville were even awake yet. The Doughman would arrive at 11 pm the night before to start preparing the bread and the staff would arrive at 5:30 am weekdays and 3:30 am on Saturdays to begin their workday.
Helen Reddick was always ready to greet the customers by 7:30 am; especially in the summer when tourists would already be lined up at the door to come in.
Every year this bakery made over 400 dozen very special hot cross buns just for the Easter season alone. They used a special dough process where the dough rose, was flattened by hand, and repeated several times to achieve the right consistency.
Ladyfingers which were similar to sponge cake were only available during the Christmas season.
The staff consisted of five bakers, three counter employees, and Helen Reddick who oversaw the operation.
As a teenager growing up in Belleville, our route home from Quinte High School would often include Footbridge Alley and a stop at Reddicks Bakery for a sticky, gooey taffy tart. In the winter when it was too cold we would eat our tart while wearing our bulky wool mittens.
Specialties included their fabulous sticky taffy tarts, plump jelly donuts, melt in your mouth date cookies, butterscotch cake, and fragrant breads and buns.
Helen’s famous fruit bread was said to have had approximately a pound of fruit in each loaf. One gentleman traveled from Nova Scotia every year to buy a dozen loaves of fruit bread at Reddicks. He would order them ahead of time and Helen would have his order ready when he arrived.
The magic of Reddicks Bakery in downtown Belleville lives in the hearts of so many of us to this day. I can still close my eyes and recall the smells and flavours of this special shop.
The personal service and superior product kept the customers coming back year after year
Downtown Belleville was home to so many wonderful bake shops over the years and we treasure the memories they leave behind.
Click on photos below to open gallery