The Ganong Family
Chocolatiers to the World

The name Ganong whets the appetite across Canada and around the world wherever Ganong chocolates are available. Ganong candies and chocolates have enlivened many a Christmas morning and special occasion since 1873 when two brothers embarked on an experiment in candy making in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. They also invented a worldwide phenomenon – the wrapped chocolate cream bar....

Contemporary with the discovery of ice cream, refrigeration, and a craving for sweets was the establishment of the Ganong name. The company chose the literary Acadian heroine “Evangeline” as its symbol in 1904, even though the Ganong family name was French Huguenot in origin and the Ganong ancestors had arrived in New Brunswick as United Empire Loyalists in 1783. “Evangeline” manifested the virtues of “purity, excellence, and constancy, romance, sentiment, and sweetness,” a wonderful packaging concept for a chocolate factory and a suitable symbol of their maritime identity.

Ganong confectioners were being established across Canada by 1900.  This early photograph taken in Rosseau, Ontario, in front of Homer Wade's country store suggests that people in remote areas of near northern Ontario were gratifying sweet tooth cravings by 1900. [Photo, courtesy Hugh MacMillan]

Founders James Harvey (1841-1888) and Gilbert White Ganong (1851-1917) decided to pool resources into a general store in St. Stephen in 1873 where they found a market for confectioneries. In 1884 the partnership was dissolved: James expanded into successful soap production, and Gilbert maintained the candy company known as Ganong Brothers.

The expansive Maritime shipping tradition demanded supplies for trade as well as for the shipping fleet. The Caribbean trade brought sugar to the shores of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia where, by the 1880s, refineries were in operation at Moncton and Halifax. In 1889 the Ganongs flourished behind a protective trade barrier. As a result of hiring several candy-makers it developed new products such as penny candies and lozenges. It introduced the wrapped chocolate bar in 1906 and invented the milk chocolate bar by 1910. With growing tastes and markets, there was a veritable explosion on the confectionery business at the turn of the century. Ironically, several fires at the Ganong plant in St. Stephen served to encourage new methods of processing and production. This, in turn, kept the company ahead of other American and Canadian competitors.

Under the management of Arthur D. Ganong (1877-1960), a son of James, the company reached new heights of production between 1917 and 1930 when, during the latter year, there were 700 employees at St. Stephen, many of whom were women. The difficulties of the Depression, war rationing, and excise taxes on confectioneries almost strangled the company. One bestseller from 1925 (except during the war) was a combination chocolate and peppermint bar known as “Pepts.” Postwar innovations in marketing and packaging revived the company, especially with television advertising. Because of a growing Asian market, a plant was opened in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1989.

A selection of chocolate sundries from the candy factory of the Ganong Bros. Limited, established in 1873 in St. Stephen, New Brunswick.  [Photo, courtesy R. Whidden Ganong]

Several members of the Ganong family made their name in managing, directing, or marketing the company products. Gilbert W. Ganong, a founder, served as a member of parliament and was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick; William F. Ganong, a son of the other founder, James, was a passionate student of his beloved province as an historian, cartographer, botanist, and linguist. He canoed and mapped its waterways, translated and preserved the oral traditions of the Micmac and Maliseet, and promoted the New Brunswick museum in Saint John. He is best known for translating and editing works by early explorers Champlain, Denys, and Le Clerq. In 1931 he won the Tyrrell Medal of the Royal Society of Canada.

Prestigious Ganong products still come from its original family base in St. Stephen where president David Ganong caters to a world culture demanding sweet tooth gratification.

Larry Turner