The Building

In 1924, The Standard Bread Company emerged on Gladstone Avenue in Ottawa’s Little Italy.

It was the “Roaring Twenties”. Cecil Morrison built the bread factory after searching for a location that would position his business closer to the city limits. Shortly after opening, the Standard Bread Company’s stocks rose dramatically.

The fact that it was built during a period when Canadian wheat was booming in international markets, and industrialism and private businesses were soaring, meant that Morrison could proudly adorn his building with the Latin proverb: Audaces Fortuna Juvat, meaning Fortune Favors the Bold. (The plaque is still there, on the outer brick wall close to the steps of the building.)

Bread was sold from the warehouse and delivered across the city and beyond by horse and wagon. (The factory owners housed the horses and wagons at the back of the building, and used the third floor as a hayloft.)

On the insistence that its loaf of bread was bigger than any other Ottawa bakery’s, the “Mother loaf” became the signature of the Standard Bread Company. The management maintained a strong advertising campaign and set up branches in Montreal and intitiated plans for Toronto.

Bread is an important index by which the cost and value of living is rated.
— G. Cecil Morrison, President, Standard Bread Co. (1924)

The Great Depression dramatically affected the bread industry. The wheat market dropped from $1.60 per bushel to 38¢. The Standard Bread Company found itself with too large an inventory of wheat and it fell into difficult times. Large numbers of employees were laid-off and, in 1932, Cecil Morrison was fired as president of the company. Morrison would later open another bakery on Echo Drive after he recovered from his financial losses.

Bread is a basic source of nutrition and one that is especially valuable during times of economic difficulties and war. Morrison lobbied with the National Council of the Baking Industry to keep the price of bread at pre-war levels as a means to help prevent inflation. So effective was his campaign that the President of the Canadian Labour Congress of the time, A.R. Mosher, said: “If the price of bread had gone up by one cent a loaf it would have resulted in a 10% increase in wages all across Canada.”

The building’s past as a place to produce bread and its present as a place to produce art is of interest. Much can be said about the similarities between bread and art. The art market has always been volatile to changes in the economy. As well, art, like bread, sustains and stimulates society.

Making bread is more difficult than the simple task of following a recipe. A baker works with yeast, a “living” element that is susceptible to changes in the environment. A good baker knows how to control humidity and temperature levels to make a good loaf of bread.

Good art, as well, is more that an understanding of the artist’s materials. It is a result of the artist’s comment on and awareness of the “conditions” of our contemporary environment.

Adapted from “Art and Bread as Necessary Staples”, an article written by Enriched Bread Artist Cindy Stelmackowich, which was published in The Daily Bread, a tabloid produced for the EBA’s 3rd Annual Open Studio Exhibition in 1995.