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Gunn’s still a’ blazin’ on Selkirk Avenue

Bakery celebrates 75 years in 2012

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While plenty of things have changed along Selkirk Avenue over the past 75 years, there has been one constant during that time.

Gunn’s Bakery first opened for business on Selkirk Avenue in 1937. Today, it is still going strong.

The bakery is now operated by Morris’ two sons, Arthur and Bernie Gunn, and will celebrate 75 years in business throughout the year.

While the business is an integral part of the community, the brothers say the community continues to be an integral part of them.

"We grew up around here. We live around here, we work around here. Still do," says Arthur (Fivie) Gunn.

Gunn’s Bakery was established in 1937 on Selkirk by Morris Gunn, the son of a baker who emigrated to Canada from Poland in the 1920s.

Morris and his wife Florence found a building on Selkirk in 1937 to open their own bakery. Later that year, the Gunn family moved into the back of the building and opened up Gunn’s Bakery in the front.

Bernie, 74, says changes to the store have been gradual. He has been with the bakery full time since his father’s death in 1973.

"When you’ve been this long in a home, the changes are gradual and you don’t notice them. Then you look around one day and wonder where it all went," he jokes.

In 1942 Arthur was born. The family had already outgrown its existing living quarters and relocated on the same block at 247 Selkirk Ave.

Both Bernie and Arthur, 69, say early success was due to the family’s European-style of baking familiar to most of the neighbourhood residents in the 30s and 40s.

"Immigrants were coming from all over the world and choosing Selkirk Avenue and the area to live, thrive and settle in," Bernie says.

While Gunn’s customers may be from around the world, the bakery’s ingredients are very much homegrown. Both Gunn boys say their parents always stressed the importance of quality and cleanliness, a motto they continue to live by.

"Our parents taught us about quality, as well as about recipes and ingredients. We’ve been doing it that way ever since then," Arthur says.

When Gunn’s Bakery originally opened, it had just three employees — Morris, Florence and one other person. Today it employs as many as 80 workers at any given time. Despite the growth, the business’ focus has remained unchanged.

"Our customers are still our number one concern, but now we’re focused on more than just baking," Arthur says.

"A whole group of people makes this run. Trucks are making daily rounds – and a daily courier as well," Bernie adds.

"We’re always trying to figure out how to manage better and make what we have tighter and more streamlined."

Bernie says major renovations in 1979 brought the bakery into the 20th century, which made life considerably easier for he and his brother.

"Prior to the expansion, we’d be coming in every Saturday morning for hand rolling, then boiling and baking. We got a bit more mechanical and automated."

"We used to keep track of all of this with a piece of paper and pencil. Computers do it for us now. I hate to think of going back to that."

Customer Jill Lelan can’t imagine going to another bakery. She drives all the way from her home in St. James to Gunn’s at least twice a month.

"It is something we did as a kid, I just continued it and it has become a bit of a family tradition," she said.

The brothers say they run into loyal customers from all over the world.

"I was in Scottsdale and got a ‘Your father made our wedding cake’ thrown my way," Bernie says.

Arthur says those stories are starting to change.

"The scariest part is now instead of hearing that my dad made an original wedding cake 40 years ago — I’m I hearing that I did it that long ago," he says.

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