Bruce Merritt had a childhood most kids could only dream of working for his parents at the family’s candy making shop.
“I have been doing this since I was seven but I have been doing it full time since I was about 18,” said Merritt. “So, I have been a candy maker for the last 30 odd years.”
He chuckles at being called Guelph’s version of Willy Wonka.
“I guess, a little bit but I don’t do anything too weird and wacky,” he said. “I always consider myself a candy maker first and foremost. Candy maker, to me, encompasses all the aspects as opposed to chocolatier which pretty much focuses just on the chocolates.”
Merritt is the middle child of three sons born to John and Elizabeth (Betty) Merritt, the founders of Candies of Merritt.
The family’s candy making tradition can be traced back three generations to his grandfather on his mother’s side
“It was my grandfather Steve Yurchuk down in St Catherine’s that started as a teenager over 100 years ago,” he said. “He actually apprenticed in Brantford but he had his business in St. Catharine’s.”
Merritt’s parents set up their own candy-making business in Guelph in 1972.
“Guelph had lots of chocolate and candy makers at one time,” said Merritt. “Back in the 40s and 50s I think there were six of them downtown and people traveled here from all over Ontario for chocolates. By the early 70s there was only one and so my parents thought, we can do this. We can fill this need for the town.”
They ran a shop on Elizabeth Street for the first two years then went into wholesaling for a while.
“We opened this store in 1983 and we’ve been here ever since,” said Merritt. “I grew up learning from my parents, my aunt and my uncle Jim Yurchuk and they taught me how to be a proper candy maker – making all the centres for the chocolates and doing everything from scratch.”
John Merritt passed away in August 2015 and Betty has retired so Bruce and his wife Karen have taken over the daily operations of the business.
“It is still my mom’s business,” he said. “I am just running it for her because she isn’t physically able to do all the work.”
The shop, located in the plaza at 344 Speedvale Avenue East, has become the go-to candy store for generations of Guelphites and they even ship their seasonal wares to loyal customers overseas.
Merritt has a simple explanation for the customer loyalty.
“People who come here know it is going to be fresh whereas a lot of the stuff you can get in stores was mass produced last spring or summer to be able to ship on time for the season,” he said. “Everything here is done the traditional way.”
They have a loyal staff of candy makers and his children, Beatrice, Nathaniel, Allison and Eleanor, help out as well.
“My two oldest help out in the store but all four help with making candies,” said Merritt. “The staff is like family and we have customers that have a sense that this is theirs. This is part of their life too and I want that to be the way people feel about it.”
It is that sense of community and tradition that keeps him going.“You’re not going to get rich being a candy maker but there is a tradition I am continuing and I am hoping one of my kids will decide to continue it as well,” he said. “It has been over a hundred years in my family and candy making is a part of Guelph that I want to keep going as long as I can keep it going.”