The M.R. Smith Bakery

offered an extraordinary variety of biscuits, cookies, crackers; and the family also operated a tea and coffee “saloon”.

M.R. Smith & Co. Ltd. Biscuits and Confectionary. Courtesy of Royal BC Museum and Archives C-09696

Moses Rowe Smith arrived in Victoria in 1858 from London, Ontario. He was joined in 1866 by his wife Sarah Anne and daughter Selina Frances. He had been engaged in the bakery business there. He set up his bakery on the south side of Johnson Street, but shortly moved to the north side of Yates Street between Store and Government St.
He soon got the contract to supply the Navy ships anchored in the harbour and also the prison ships. This required him to bake 3500 loaves of bread a day! To do this he installed 4 large ovens in his Victoria bakery and opened a branch in Esquimalt. Mr. Smith then obtained a contract to supply bread to the navy which he held for many years.

In 1860 he built a large warehouse in Esquimalt and sold not only baked goods, but groceries and provisions. When the naval presence in Esquimalt declined in 1863, he sold this part of that business and turned his attention back to Victoria. He moved to a location on Fort Street between Broad and Douglas Street. He described his establishment as a “bread and fancy cake bakery, tea and coffee saloon, etc.” A year later Mr. Smith moved again to a building on Fort Street, east of Broad Street. His final location was at 57 and 59 Fort Street.

Mr. Smith also expanded his clientele to include Fiji and Australia as well as the Northwest Territories. His dog biscuits fed the pets of Victoria as well as the sled dogs in the Klondike! The sealing fleet accounted for a considerable business in the 1880’s. He maintained a delivery force of 14 wagons and horses and took orders for places as “far away” as Esquimalt and Work Point.

smith biscuit factory
“Victoria Steam Bakery”; the M.R. Smith and Company Biscuit Manufacturers; northside of Niagara Street between Montreal Street and St. Lawrence Street, Victoria. (B-02035)

Because he was able to carry out all his business from the Fort Street Bakery, Mr. Smith built a larger biscuit factory at 91 Niagara Street with more machinery and more ovens. This 3 storey building with a basement had the most up-to-date machinery available, including an elevator. Mr. Smith proclaimed that his factory to be the largest north of Portland with 35 employees.

Moses brought a property in 1890 at 140 Dallas Road and built a fine residence for his family that he called “Seaview”. There were also barns and stables for their horses. It was later turned into apartments and then torn down.

All images courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives: B-02690, A-02398, B-02692

In the parlor, thick tasseled curtains framed the windows. Pictures were on the walls, bric-a-brac in corner curio cabinets and on the fireplace mantel. Small tables and easy chairs strategically placed for guests to engage in conversation. The upright piano was likely played by daughter Selina, who trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

The dining room was also formally set with a china tea service on the side board, pictures on the walls, chandelier lighting, the dining table with a white table cloth, silver tray in the centre and seven elegant chairs gathered around, a wicker easy chair off to the side.
– All images courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives: B-02690, A-02398, B-02692.

When Moses Rowe Smith died on January 24, 1896, his sons, Hamilton and Garrett, took over the business. They added a confectionary plant, and in 1906, turned the firm into a limited company. At that time the company employed 26 women, 21 men and 5 boys and the annual payroll was $24,500.00.

Sarah Anne, his wife died on April 21, 1913. Daughter Selina Frances became a talented pianist, studying in Toronto in 1892 and Leipzig, Germany in 1899. She taught music for many years from her studio. She died on July 15, 1938.

The youngest son, Garrett Bernhardt married Emily Elizabeth Vogel in July 1900. He died on June 6, 1960, age 90 here in Victoria. Garrett was an avid photographer and many of his photographs are in the B.C. Archives. Hamilton lived at 16 Montreal Street until he died on February 2, 1965. The Smith Family are all in the family plot in Ross Bay Cemetery. (B 25/26 E32)

Full page advertisement for MRSmith&Co .
“The Oldest Established Biscuit Manufactory in Western Canada” On December 13th, 1908 the Colonist published a 50th Anniversary Edition of the newspaper. This special edition included a full page advertisement for M.R. Smith & Co. with an article about the history of this firm.

The full page advertisement includes “The firm of M.R. Smith & Co. Ltd. Holds twelve medals, six silver, four gold and two bronze, awarded their goods at exhibitions in the New and Old world. It holds Medals and Diplomas won at the Colonial and London Exhibition, 1886 Medals and Diplomas, British Columbia Exhibitions 1891-92-93-94-95-96-97-98, and Gold Medals, 1895-96-97-98. First Prize and Diploma at Dominion Exhibition at New Westminster 1905.

Credits and References
This story has been researched, written and contributed by the Old Cemeteries Society. Thank you!
All images courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives.
Item A-02398 – The Christmas tree at the M.R. Smith home, 104 Dallas Road, Victoria.
Item B-02035 – “Victoria Steam Bakery”; the M.R. Smith and Company Biscuit Manufacturers; on the northside of Niagara Street between Montreal Street and St. Lawrence Street, Victoria.
Item B-02690 – The M.R. Smith home at 104 Dallas Road, Victoria
Item B-02692 – The dining room of the M.R. Smith home at 104 Dallas Road, Victoria.
Item C-09695 – Display of M.R. Smith’s Biscuits
Item H-03569 – Display of Mr. Smith’s biscuits; possibly at the Willows fairgrounds, Victoria.
The Willows Fair began in 1891 when the provincial agricultural exhibition relocated from Beacon Hill Park to Oak Bay. An exhibition hall was constructed adjoining an existing racetrack. With the incorporation of Oak Bay as a municipality in 1906, urban growth soon started to encroach upon the exhibition grounds; by 1948 all the buildings were gone.
Sherry Edmunds-Flett, PHD thesis on the history of African Canadian women in British Columbia from 1858-1938. Chapter 3 (draft) “A Home for our Children in the Right Place”
– Robert Clanton worked as a bookkeeper at M.R. Smith and Company. He was born in Ohio on October 31, 1834 and arrived in Victoria in 1858. He married Victoria Richards on Boxing Day, 1866 at St. John’s Anglican Church. Victoria had emigrated to Victoria as a young woman with her family. She was part of a nucleus of families who moved to California from Florida and then later to Vancouver Island. The Clantons became moderately wealthy and influential within the Black community. Before working as the bookkeeper, Robert owned a clothing store in Victoria in the 1870’s.
– 1863-October-08 Daily Colonist Pg. 6: Tax Assessment: Smith. M.R. Baker Esquimalt Assessed: 800.00; Taxes: $7.28
– 1893:Victoria Daily Colonist, Wednesday September 27th, 1893 pg. 2. Want ad for bakers for the Smith steam bakery and biscuit factory.
– 1899: Victoria City Directory. Page 456: Smith, M.R. & Co. Biscuit manufactures. Factory 91 Niagara Street, offices at 57 and 59 Fort Street.