Peter Harrison, great-grandson of Dent Harrison, founder of Harrison Family / POM Bakery. Photo: Doreen Lindsay
More than 50 Westmounters gathered in the Westmount Library on April 16 to recall the days when the smell of freshly baked bread drifted up the mountain to Summit Circle.
Peter Harrison, great grandson of Dent Harrison, founder of Harrison Bakeries, which operated for 97 years between 1890 and 1987 and spanned four generations, was invited by the Westmount Historical Association to explain why the Harrison family is so important in the history of our community.
The Bakery was the largest employer and the largest taxpayer for many years in Westmount. Dent Harrison, who died in 1936, had lived with his family in Westmount for 45 years. During that time he was a City Council member from 1927 through 1935, as well as an active supporter of the YMCA, the Rotary Club and Dominion Douglas Church.
Peter Harrison explained how the POM Bakery had evolved from a small, three-jet gas hotplate set up by Dent and his friend, Thomas Allat, in 1890 to bake crumpets in Montreal. By 1894, Dent had met and married Ellen Whiley from Ontario and rented his own space at no. 1 Dunlop Place, between Greene and Wood Avenues, where Westmount Square stands today. He moved the business to larger premises on Prince Albert Avenue, facing Burton, in 1902 and called it The Model Bakery.
Dent was an innovative inventor who was always trying new ways to improve his bread making. He had already adapted an industrial mixer to produce the first mechanical dough mixer in Canada. Now, he ordered the world’s first traveling oven to be delivered and installed in 1909. The first night, this white-enameled brick six-feet wide by 50-feet long oven produced 3,300 loaves of bread. It was a success.
Dent extended his factory up to Somerville Avenue, eventually installing three traveling ovens, and changed the name to The Marvel Bakery. When his two oldest sons joined the business in 1922, he again changed the name to Dent Harrison and Sons.
Some people in the audience remembered these early days of horse drawn delivery bread wagons when home delivery was made by 165 horses owned by the family.
In 1925, a change in ownership took place. The family decided to sell the Bakery to US Continental Baking because Dent was suffering from ill health. His two sons, Will and Gordon, signed a five-year contract to work for the new company, but they preferred to own their own business, so in 1930 when the contract ended they along with their father and brother Dent Jr. bought the land at the Glen and opened as POM (Pride of Montreal). They called their new building POM Hall and proudly advertised the use of malt and pure fresh full cream milk. They replaced the old horse drawn carts with two-toned green Ford delivery trucks and by the end of their first year they had attained their goal of 52 routes in 52 weeks. They added a new section for cookies and biscuits in 1939.
Home delivery ended in the 1970s, and the bakery became wholesale. By the 1980s, the bakery needed new ovens and more space so they moved production to Viau Street, across from Olympic Stadium.
Peter ended his talk by telling his audience how his family sold POM Hall in 1986 to developers for $2.4 million, which brought to an end their connection to Westmount. •Doreen Lindsay is president of the Westmount Historical Association.
Photo: Doreen Lindsay