July 21st, 2024

Heritage in the Hat: Our daily bread

By Malcolm Sissons on October 24, 2023.

J. B. Richardson Bakery on 4th Street SW now MT Nest (1920s).--PHOTO COURTESY James Marshall

Sharing a pastry at MT Nest with my buddy Jim the other day, he observed that the current bakery and cafe was on the site of a previous bakery, operated by his great-grandfather, John B. Richardson. Talk about full circle!

Michael Leonard, an experienced baker, arrived in 1883 on the first train to cross the river. He started City Bakery, moving into a frame building at 212 South Railway in 1884, becoming a bread supplier to the CPR. In 1908, his son-in-law Felix McKinnon took over the bakery and built a two-storey brick addition at the back to house the bakery. In 1913, McKinnon sold the bakery but not the building to John Bryden Richardson, the beginning of a four-generation baker dynasty in the Hat.

J. B. Richardson was a baker in Scotland and came to the Hat from Winnipeg where he operated a successful bakery. Arriving with his family in Medicine Hat in 1912, Richardson purchased the City Bakery, renaming it J. B. Richardson Bakery. There were 7 bakeries listed in the 1914 Henderson Directory. J.B.’s oldest son, Bertram purchased Redcliff Bakery, located behind William Keat’s Grocery in Redcliff (3rd Street at 1st Avenue NE), but the building was damaged in the 1915 tornado.

In 1915, J.B. Richardson Bakery moved to 720 – 4th Street SE, a building that still exists as B & L Lawn and House Maintenance. By 1919, it had become the Richardson and Turner Bakery, with William B. Turner as partner. The bakery moved to 262-4th St. SW, site of today’s Gershaw Terrace. However, this partnership dissolved in 1920.

In those days, 4th Street (not 3rd) was the main road into the Hat from Gershaw Drive, although it was a dirt road well into the 1940s. In 1925, John moved to a two-storey house opposite the bakery and Bert to a house beside it. His sisters Vera and Helen also worked at the bakery and lived close by. The stable for the bread delivery wagon horses was behind.

By 1925, Bertram’s role was recognized in the new name J. B. Richardson and Son Bakery. They decided to sell the business to Five Roses Flour Mill in 1929, which renamed it Medicine Hat Baking Co. In 1938, Five Roses sold the business to Weston’s Bakery.

However, baking was in the blood and in 1932, with Bert as Manager, the Richardsons purchased the Ideal Bakery, operating in the old Richardson Bakery location at 720 – 4th Street SE. In 1957, Bert’s son Harold succeeded as Manager with his son Ralph also working in the business and taking over as manager in 1981, a fourth generation of Richardson bakers in Medicine Hat.

The renamed Richardson’s Bakery (Medicine Hat) Ltd. signalled a change in ownership in 1982 with B. M. Schmidt taking over from the Richardson family although baking carried on at the same location until 1999, when it became a retail business at 1023 Allowance Avenue. Richardson’s Bakery continued until 2010, a span of 97 years!

Malcolm Sissons is a past member of the Heritage Resources Committee of the City of Medicine Hat

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