Cacao trees cannot grow in Canada. However, chocolates made from their fruits proliferate from coast to coast.
My favourites for many years have been from Rheo Thompson Candies, founded in 1969 in Stratford, ON. While ownership has changed and the product line expanded, Rheo Thompson still produces its addictive Mint Smoothies — squares containing somewhat-soft innards of a mint-y chocolate coated with a harder chocolate outer shell, either in dark or milk variety.
I have been a Mint Smoothie Mule. When I first moved to Stratford in but still had some volunteer obligations back in London, Ontario, London friends put in their orders so I could hand-deliver boxes of Mint Smoothies. When I worked as a theatre publicist and travelled to New York to visit our Canadian cast performing on Broadway, I brought along Mint Smoothies. So did every other Stratford visitor. The American actors who had joined the show, and the backstage crew, fell on them with glee — this in the middle of New York City which, among its many other charms, has a whole lot of chocolate shops.
Other notable Canadian chocolate makers include Purdy’s from Vancouver (founded in 1907) and Ganong from St. Stephen, New Brunswick, which bills itself as Canada’s oldest chocolatier, founded in 1873.
The tradition continues. A Syrian refugee family who came to Canada in 2015 used to operate a chocolate factory in Damascus but it was destroyed in 2012 during the country’s ongoing civil war. The Hadhads fled to Lebanon, where they stayed until leaving for Canada in December 2015. They have now set up Peace by Chocolate in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
In Canada, as in many other places, chocolates are a traditional gift to mark Valentine’s Day. Ganong claims it was a pioneer in creating heart-shaped boxes, back in the 1930s, for packaging their treats.
Truth be told, I have a limited sweet tooth. I don’t like most candy. But when it’s time for a treat, Canada more than holds its own when it comes to producing high-quality, melt-in-the-mouth little squares of chocolatey pleasure.
Main photo: courtesy Rheo Thompson Candies