Around Town: A celebration of chocolate

Reception at the Royal B.C. Museum pays tribute to Victoria's rich history of confectionary

That classic proverb — the more things change, the more they stay the same — sprang to mind at the Royal B.C. Museum during B.C. Bites and Beverages: Victoria’s Sweet Secret, a celebration of 100 years of this town’s confectionary history.

“Victoria was teeming in the late 19th and early 20th century with candy and chocolate factories,” said Janet MacDonald, the manager of learning and visitor experience, recalling the inspiration for this sweet addition to the museum’s food-and-drink series.

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“They come and go. Names change and partners disappear, but they all pride themselves on being local. When we invited some contemporary small-business entrepreneurs in, we went, ‘Hey, wait a minute. That sounds very much like today.’ ”

With Rogers’ Chocolates, established in 1885, as its “historical foundation,” the event also showcased the philosophy and accomplishments of Terrible Truffles, Cobble Hill’s Organic Fair and Julie’s Delights.

“Although I consider chocolate a food group, many do not, so it is appreciated for the sheer pleasure of it,” said Rogers’ chocolatier Cornell Idu, offering delectable samples of chocolate cream and dark chocolate almond brittle.

“This is something Mr. Rogers would have made in 1885. The original recipe’s over 125 years old, so it seemed fitting.”

Guests also sampled such delicacies as Terrible Truffles chocolatier David Booth’s chewy salted butter caramel truffles, Julie Briere’s chocolates filled with raspberry, cayenne pepper and ginger with fresh lemon; and “bean-to-bar” dark chocolate manufacturer Organic Fair’s pairings of its organic root beer with cacao chocolate bar, and ginger ale with its Talamanca bar.

“Once you start eating dark chocolate, your palate changes and you can start to challenge it,” explained Marisa Goodwin, who runs the fair-trade company with husband Kent. “It has all those wonderful polyphenols and tannin, which is good for you.”

Historian Sherri Robinson explained the origins of Victoria’s confectionary business, refinery methods and how a concoction like the chocolate drink “was a rich man’s beverage before candy became affordable for everybody.”

She brought along vintage boxes of chocolates, including a treasured small red Rowntrees Queen’s Assortment chocolate box dated 1908.

The little red chocolate box has an inscription written on the inside of the top "the first box of chocolates Daddy gave me, 1908".

Said Robinson: "It was the first box of chocolates my Opa gave my Nana in 1908 here in Victoria where they were both born, the children of early pioneers."

Elaine Dunn, 85, was in a nostalgic mood, and no wonder. When in her late teens, she worked at the long-gone Countess de Charney chocolate shop on Broad Street between View and Fort in 1946 and ’47.

The owner, Edith Westgate, “did all the cooking. They made the creams and we had to stir in the caramels,” Dunn recalled.

“She imported Mexican honey because sugar was rationed. It made a different kind of cream, but it was very nice.”

Did Dunn sample the product on the job?

“Well, sure,” she said, laughing. “Why go for lunch?”

Dunn came with daughter Susanna Woolley and granddaughter Rhonda Hemstreet, who enjoyed caramel chocolates and a cheesecake pop. While non-alcoholic punch was available, Hemstreet’s beverage of choice was Moroccan mint tea.

“Chocolate goes with everything,” she said.

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