Vachon has treated us since 1932. From the beginning on a farm to its popularity now, they have come a long way. Maybe if you knew about their history, you might enjoy the taste better. Though really, its delicious whether you think of it or not.
For those who may not be familiar with these tasty treats, a May West is a round dessert cake with cream filling. A Jos Louis is a delicious sponge cake with vanilla-flavoured crème filling coated in a chocolatey layer.
The company that brought Canadians Jos Louis snack cakes and a variety of other tasty pastries was launched by a modest family with a dream, a bank loan, and hardworking children.
From its beginnings as a mom and pop bakery operated by Arcade and Rose-Anna in Quebec’s Beauce Region, Vachon Cakes evolved into a multi-million dollar business, which was referred to by one media commentator as a “treasured morsel of the province’s food industry heritage.”
In 1923, Arcade, 55, and his wife, who was 10 years his junior, left Sainte-Patrice de Beaurivage, Quebec, after spending 25 years as farmers there. The couple borrowed $7,000 and bought the Leblond Bakery in Sainte-Marie de Beauce, about 60 kilometres from Quebec City under the direction of Rose-Anna. They had 15 dollars in the bank at the time.
Their first employee was their son Redempteur, who made bread, and with his father crisscrossed the surrounding area in a buggy selling loaves for six cents apiece.
Always looking to increase sales, Rose-Anna diversified into other baked goods, including doughnuts, sweet buns, shortbread, cakes, pies, and even baked beans, which she made in her wood oven in her kitchen of the family home. Simone, one of two daughters, helped sell the tasty treats after school. In 1928, two of the Vachons’ six sons, Louis and Amedee, returned from the United States to help out. The business prospered when it began exporting to Quebec City.
By 1932, the company had 10 employees and introduced the Jos Louis, which soon became its most popular cake. By 1937, the ongoing company was peddling its products in Ontario and the Maritime.
On January 15, 1938, at age 70, Joseph-Arcade Vachon passed away . His wife and sons kept the company running and moved to a shoe factory, where an 8,000-square-foot extension was constructed and modern production equipment installed. The family then decided to focus exclusively on snack cakes. During the Second World War, Vachon supplies cakes to military bases in Vancouver (British Columbia), Halifax (Nova Scotia), Nanaimo (British Columbia) and even England.
In 1945, at age of 67, Rose-Anna retired and sold her interest in the company to her sons Joseph, Amedee, Paul and Benoit, who broadened the product line to 111 items. Rose-Anna died on December 2, 1948.
In 1961, with sales across most of Canada, the company changed its name to Vachon Inc. A decade later they had 12,000 employees. 83 percent of Vachon shares were sold to Quebec banking co-op Movement des Caisses Populaire Desjardins, leaving 17 percent in the Vachon family’s hands.
Some snack lovers believe the Jos Louis is named after the legendary American boxer Joe Louis. In fact, the chocolate cake’s moniker is a combination of the names of two Vachon sons – Joseph and Louis.
The May West cake’s name was originally identical to that of the movie star that inspired it, but got changed in the 1980s to its current spelling. The original creme filling was custard, however it has since then been replaced by a shortening-based vanilla creme close in taste and texture to the filling found in Twinkies.
The Vachon home in Sainte-Marie de Beauce, Quebec, where Rosa-Anna did her bookkeeping and used her own recipes to bake breads and snack cakes, is now a historic museum.
To learn more about Vachon, I suggest visiting the Official Vachon History . There was also an interesting article in the Montreal Gazette about Rene Brousseau, the inventor of the May West snack cake..