Sunday, October 23, 2016Overcast 14°C

New doc on Ossington bakery captures changing street

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 18, 2013

toronto ontario breadThe founders of Ontario Bread Co. Ltd. knew which side their rye was buttered. For 78 years, the little factory, tucked down a laneway off Ossington Ave., churned out Polish-style Mazowieckis, kaiser rolls, egg breads, and babkas, on its way to becoming the busiest bakery of its kind in Canada.

Now, sadly, it's gone for good, a victim of slowing sales and changing local tastes. But before the ovens were switched off for the last time, filmmaker Jim Bachalo produced a moving mini documentary inside the bakery's timeworn walls, capturing for posterity the small group of staff who helped guide each loaf from dough, to slicing, and bagging.

"I thought it was important to do something before they closed," says Bachalo. "A lot of these places go unnoticed and they're here until they're gone."

"It was a very old-world style of bakery, so it was a lot more chaotic than I expected, but there was definitely a rhythm to the flow of things because they've being doing it so long, for so many years. After spending a few days watching them I got a sense of their habits and so on."

Founded in 1935, the bakery hit its stride in the post-war years when thousands of new immigrants from Poland and eastern Europe came to the area hungry for a taste of home. Since then, times haven't been so good. The business went in to decline, reducing its staff and output, and eventually closed for good earlier this summer.

Three of Ontario Bread's staff made headlines in 2011 when they split a $50 million Lotto Max jackpot. True to their hardworking form, the long-time staff kept their jobs until replacements could be brought onboard.

The little movie is a powerful farewell to a lost neighbourhood institution that traced its roots back to the days of horse-drawn deliveries. The recipes and the Ontario Bread name survive out in Missisauga under the control of Jaswoj Bakery, but the days of local, European bread on Ossington are now over.

"It's an interesting part of Toronto's culture that has strong European roots," says Bachalo. "It's sad in a way to see it go."

toronto ontario bakeryChris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Images: Tony Chen



phuong / August 18, 2013 at 07:50 am
Terrific documentary! *saddened
jameson / August 18, 2013 at 09:52 am
Pretty interesting, never knew that place was on Ossington. Tough to feel sad though, considering how much that property is worth, I'm sure the owners of the company will do quite well selling the property (just like the owners of the abattoir on King-Spadina) to Brad J Lamb.

But on the whole, people still buy bread and other baked products, there's no reason this company couldn't have made other products and adapted their techniques to stay in business, if they really wanted too. It would take a lot of ingenuity and would be a challenge, but I'm sure a company that has been in business for 80 years has dealt with adversity in the past too.
JamesB / August 21, 2013 at 10:42 am
Interview with owner on CBC's metromorning today
David Aplin / September 5, 2013 at 06:09 pm
A terrific piece of writing and a tender moving documentary.
I'm very glad to see the interest shown to the ethnic roots of working class Toronto, portrayed in such a dignified manner.
Gone but never forgotten thanks to efforts such as these.
Much appreciated!
Olga Lenko Aplin / September 5, 2013 at 07:19 pm
We came to Canada from Ukraine in 1935, my father was yearning for some good bread, but all we could find at that time was the white stuff they called bread. Good that ppl that work with their hands get the praise for work well done.
MIke Avery / February 9, 2014 at 10:26 am
I think a few people miss the point. For a baker, a real baker, baking is a way of life. It is their art. It is the way they build, and share, community. It's not just a job.

I'd bet the bakers who won the $50 million had to think about whether they wanted to stop baking, and that the decision was more their spouses than their own.

We had to close our bakery - after far fewer years than they enjoyed - and any number of times I'd meet former employees on the street and they all said the same thing, working in the bakery was the best job they'd ever had. At the end of the day, you've made something that will make people happy. And far too few of us can say that. Yeah, you've signed a few papers, sent a dozen emails, read more emails, been in meetings. But can you point to something real and say, "I made that"? And can you look at it and know it will make someone happy.

A decade after we closed our bakery, I still bake. I still give bread away. It makes people happy, me among them. And, I still miss working in our bakery.

Sadly, rye bread has not become widely accepted by mainstream America, or, evidently, Canada. We made kick ass rye breads and had trouble giving them away. You need an active, food loving, culture that still cherishes rye breads. Slavic, German, and Scandinavian are pretty much it. French, a little, but their ryes tend to be less hearty. English, hardly at all. And that would make life harder and harder for the Ontario Bread Company.

Yeah, they should do well selling the property. But that isn't nearly as satisfying as making bread, making people happy and being in the company of a family of bakers.

Other Cities: Montreal