On June 5th 1873, two brothers James and Gilbert (G.W) Ganong founded Ganong Brothers, Limited in St. Stephen. Primarily a producer of boxed chocolates, it now provides many chocolates for Laura Secord stores.
The Ganongs hail from a line of Huguenots who sought refuge from persecution in France, migrating to New Amsterdam during the latter half of the 17th century. The surname “Ganong” is a derivative of the original French name, “Guenon”.
James Harvey Ganong (January 9, 1841 – April 21, 1888), a St. Stephen businessman, is credited with co-founding the Ganong Bros. chocolate company in 1873 and the St. Croix Soap Manufacturing Co. in 1878.
James, born in Springfield NB, was the eldest of Francis Daniel Ganong and Deborah Ruth Keirstead’s six children. In 1863, he wed Susan E. Brittain of Saint John, and the couple had seven children. His father was a farmer and merchant, and in his early years, James held positions as a shopkeeper and travelling salesman. For a few years, he resided in Massachusetts, where two of his children were born.
In 1873, he and his brother Gilbert moved to the border town of St. Stephen on the St. Croix River across from Calais, Maine. There, they established a grocery business and within a few years added a bakery and confectionery manufactory plus expanded their retailing to include a store in Calais.
In 1878, the Ganong brothers, alongside Freeman H. Todd, established the St. Croix Soap Manufacturing Company. However, in 1884, they chose to dissolve their partnership. Gilbert Ganong kept the store, bakery, and confectionery business, while James took charge of the soap factory. The soap business thrived and gained renown for its Surprise Soap brand, which eventually gained national distribution.
James Ganong actively participated in local matters and even served as the mayor of St. Stephen. His untimely death at the age of forty-seven in 1888 led to his son, Edwin, taking over the soap business. Gilbert Ganong passed away without any descendants, leaving James’s son Arthur to inherit the chocolate business.
The St. Croix Soap Manufacturing Company was famous for its Surprise Soap, a national brand that lasted until 1946. Clever advertising strategies, such as the innovative 1894 release of The Surprise Cook Book, written by then-popular American author Marion Harland, helped promote the company’s products. The book was officially registered as The Premium Cook Book, as titled by the American Technical Book Company, its publishers in the United States. It was reprinted in 1990 by the Atlantic-New England Heritage Committee.
In 1913, Edwin Ganong sold the St. Croix Soap Manufacturing Company to Lever Brothers of Toronto, Ontario, a subsidiary of the British conglomerate. Edwin became Lever Brothers’ president and relocated to Toronto, where he lived until his death in 1944. Two years later, Lever Brothers Ltd. shut down the St. Stephen plant.
The company also was the first to introduce a heart-shaped box of chocolates in North America. The heart-shaped boxes were originally used for presents over the Christmas season before it also succeeded around Valentine’s Day.
In 1911, Ganong Bros. purchased the bankrupt White Candy Company in Saint John and operated a factory there until 1931.
Ganong’s extensive history is on display at its Chocolate Museum (Fr:Le Musée du Chocolat), which opened in 1999 in their former factory building in St. Stephen. The exhibits narrate the story of the Ganong brothers and their company, showcasing interactive displays about the historical and contemporary process of chocolate and candy-making, along with a collection of historic chocolate boxes and antique candy-making equipment. Visitors also have the opportunity to taste chocolate samples. The building also houses the Ganong Chocolatier company store.
In conjunction with the community, the museum co-hosts the St. Stephen Chocolate Festival, which has been held since 1985. In 2000 the town was registered as “Canada’s Chocolate Town”.
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