Canadians of a certain age will recall the good old days of youth, when a few coins in one’s pocket could purchase a sweet stash of made-in-Canada candy. Sadly, some old standbys from the past are now difficult to find — if not entirely extinct. But we can still reminisce about our favourites.
What better way to imitate mom and dad than by blowing “smoke” (which was actually a sugary powder) from a chalk-like candy cigarette? One of the most popular brands featured cartoon sailor Popeye, apparently sending children the mixed message that they should eat their spinach and then light up. As smoking became less socially acceptable, candy cigs vanished from store shelves. While they can still be found, these days it’s more of a kitsch candy for nostalgic grownups that would probably guarantee a visit from social services should you ever give them to an actual child.
If there was one distinctly Canadian candy that was typically met with disappointment and disdain by kids after a night of trick-or-treating, and it’s the Big Turk; a chocolate-covered slab of pink Turkish delight. Although the gelatinous bar, which is still available, isn’t for everyone, it does have its devoted fans. One of the selling points, however, is that a Big Turk bar only contains 4 grams of fat — 60 percent less than the average chocolate bar.
Show of hands from anyone who ever unexpectedly lost a baby tooth or filling thanks to this delicious yet fiendishly sticky toffee? Canada’s version of this toffee was different than the original British version, which was softer and less brittle. Still available in Canada, the current version features individually wrapped candies instead of one single slab of toffee wrapped in wax paper, which has more of a smooth, caramel consistency than the hard-as-a-brick original.
Lucky Elephant Pink Candy Popcorn
First introduced to candy-loving Canadians in the 1950s, this popcorn is covered with a bright-pink sugary coating, and while it’s not as easy to find as it used to be, Lucky Elephant Popcorn is still being produced. Much like Cracker Jacks — from which this was clearly modeled — the prizes that come inside the box aren’t as cool as they used to be. A retro treat if there ever was one!
Kerr's Maple Kisses
Imbued with the super sweet taste of maple (and made with 10 percent real maple syrup, says the manufacturer, Toronto-based Kerr’s Candy), these chewy delights are like a taste of Canada. Pop one in your mouth and experience pure nostalgia — along with a craving for pancakes
Predominantly a Western Canada phenomenon (they were produced by Winnipeg-based Paulin’s), Cuban Lunch looked similar to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but were simply milk chocolate and peanuts. Paulin’s is no longer in business and Cuban Lunch hasn’t been available for a long time — which is why some people with fond memories of this long-lost treat have been trying to recreate the recipe. As for what either “Cuba” or “lunch” had to do with this sweet treat is anybody’s guess.
Maynards Swedish Berries
Characterized by a soft gummy centre within a thick, gummy shell, Swedish Berries are the precursor to gummy bears and other gummy-based candy. The flavour is probably meant to approximate Sweden’s lingonberry, which would explain the name. Swedish Berries are still being produced and remain as popular as ever.
It’s a rare confection that uses the fact that it tastes like soap as a selling point, yet that’s always been the case with uniquely Canadian Thrills Gum. The secret to the odd, not entirely unpleasant soapy taste has to do with the fact that the bright purple gum is flavoured with rosewater.
Based on Cadbury’s popular UK bar known as the Curly Wurly, this combo of chocolate and toffee, twisted together, was a popular candy choice with kids in the 1970s. The bar’s design reportedly came from a confectioner at one of the company’s British factories who came up with the shape while experimenting with some surplus toffee from another project.
Also produced by Ganong, Chicken Bones have an even deeper history than the venerable Pal-o-Mine. This funny confection features a spicy cinnamon crust with a dark chocolate core and are in fact quite polarizing in the Maritimes, notes the Globe and Mail, adding that nearly 700 million candies have been produced since they were first introduced to the Canadian market.
Perhaps no candy is more uniquely Canadian than the Pal-o-Mine bar, first introduced to the market by New Brunswick-based Ganong Bros. back in 1922. A thick chocolate coating envelops a fudge-based centre that also includes coconuts and peanuts. Like biting into Canadian history.
Brent Furdyk is a freelance writer in Vancouver.