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Slicing through City Bakery history

Looking back 120 years into Trail history, told from those who lived it and baked it
Angelo Pellizzari donated this 1921 photo of City Bakery workers to the Trail Historical Society. Angelo’s father (also named Angelo Pellizzari) bought the business with Federico Merlo in 1920/1921. In 1929, Angelo Sr. sold his bakery share to Federico, and later moved back to Italy. Years ago, Angelo (junior) who still lives in Trail, brought this photo back from a family visit to Italy.

Excerpts provided to the Trail Times by Sarah Benson, director of Trail Museum and Archives

Building or business City Bakery

Location Victoria Street / Cedar Avenue

Construction date 1895

History - Occupants Owned by J. Schnaebele 1897

Trade, baker (1916-30). Names associated with this business from business license registers 1916-30: Groutage Brothers, F.F. Furno, Gus Montani.

Names associated with this business from business licence registers 1931-35: Alfonse Merlo, Guiseppe Merlo

GROUTAGE, Evelyn and Agnes

(By great-granddaughter Karen Groutage)

Evelyn Lawson Groutage was born in the Staffordshire area of England in 1882. He emigrated to Saskatchewan, where he met his wife Agnes Meachem. They came to Trail in the early 1900s, but found little work here, so he went looking for work in Washington State. There was plenty of work, but if you were from England no one would hire you.

So Evelyn came back to Trail, where he bought land in Columbia Gardens. He farmed there until the smelter fumes burnt the land. He signed on at the CM&S, but quit after about two hours. His foreman said, “If you only wanted a tour, we didn’t have to go through all that paperwork.” Evelyn replied, “I may go to hell when I die but I am not going to work there while I’m living.”

To support his family Evelyn bought and ran City Bakery. He built the old Douglas Hotel, around 1923. He was mayor and alderman twice, and was in office during the building of the old Trail bridge. Evelyn must have still been running his farm, since the story goes that he was the first man to herd a cow across the new bridge. As mayor, he met the Queen when she toured Trail.

My great-grandfather was a devout Baptist, and therefore the Douglas Hotel had no pub and drinking was absolutely forbidden on the premises. I have heard from some older party animals that this did not stop the patrons from drinking booze on the premises. Evelyn died in Victoria in 1962.

Evelyn and Agnes were wonderful people; they often had friends and relatives stay with them while they found a place for themselves in this new country. I have often heard stories of their generosity and kindness.

My great-great-grandfather, John Groutage, followed his son to Canada along with his six other children. He was born November 17, 1850, and died in Trail January 10, 1922. He was buried in the old cemetery. John’s children: Evelyn Lawson married Agnes Meachem; Edgar Egbert married Eliza Degg; William Alfred married Lucy Meachem (William died in a mining accident in Rossland); Harry stayed in England; Beatrice moved to Seattle and worked with the Salvation Army; Mrs. F. Hunter (married first name unknown); and Mrs. G. R. Matkin (married first name unknown).

My great-grandfather had three children, Douglas, Milly, and Evelyn. Evelyn married and lived in Calgary, where her husband worked for the CM&S. They had no children. She died in 1970.

Milly married Kootenay Sammons; they emigrated to America as missionaries and had two children.

Douglas Lawson Groutage, my grandfather, was born in Rossland on May 19, 1907, and married Nettie Hamilton, who was taking a bookkeeping course at the local college. My grandfather helped his father run the various business ventures. They had one child, my father, Ronald Lawson Groutage. My Grandmother had numerous miscarriages and after having my father and having a very bad bout of post-partum depression, was told she should not have any more children. My grandparents divorced when my dad was about 14. They had moved to Victoria where he was a very successful businessman. He passed away February 26, 1994.

My dad was born in Trail on April 3, 1932(?). He was very close to his family and friends. He ran various businesses with his father before settling into the metal work trade as a welder, boiler maker and sheet metal worker. He married Marlene Jeanette Bryant in 1956 and had three children. He worked across Canada on his apprenticeship and eventually worked in the shipyards in Victoria. He moved to Powell River where he retired and lives with my mother.

Ron and Marlene’s children: Deborah Ann married Kevin Lewis and lives in Powell River. She has two children, Karen and Douglas. Karen Jeanette was married and divorced and lives in Castlegar. She has two children. Douglas Lawson married, divorced, and remarried. He lives in Langley and has one child.

MERLO, Federico and Virginia

Federico Merlo was born in 1890 to Giocomo Merlo and Guiseppina Besegatto, both of Monte Beluna. It was October 13, 1913 when Federico Merlo emigrated from Italy to North America, first landing in Philadelphia. Federico continued on and eventually arrived in Spokane where he met James DeVito.

James was working as a shoemaker and advised Federico about a job in a logging camp, driving a team of horses sliding logs. Federico continued onto Kellogg, Idaho, where he met Guildo Nutini and friends.

He returned shortly to Spokane, where he heard of a farm for sale in Robson. Federico only made it as far as Trail and found living quarters in a log cabin across from St. Anthony’s church. His favourite pastime was playing bocce in the Gulch, and cards known as briscola. Mr. Furno and Doug Groutage had recently built the City Bakery with materials from an old hotel in Rossland.

Federico began to work for Furno at the bakery. Not too long after, Mr. Furno moved to Kamloops and sold the bakery business to Federico Merlo and Angelo Pellizzari.

In 1924 Federico returned to Italy to marry Virginia Maria Cabianca. On May 10, 1926 Alphonso Merlo and Bruno Merlo arrived in Trail, followed by Guiseppe Merlo on February 27, 1927.

In 1929, Federico bought out Angelo Pellizzari. While working at the bakery, Federico would get up at 5:00 a.m., chop firewood, help make the bread, and then deliver it house to house up Rossland Avenue, through West Trail and downtown. His deliveries included Dominic Daloise’s grocery store in the Gulch and the Company Store (operated by Mr. Jackson). Federico had a horse-drawn wagon to make deliveries.

Primo Fantin, his young helper, asked, “What’s the horse’s name?” Federico hadn’t thought of a name and Primo said, “Let’s call him Trotsky.” A popular question in the newspaper at that time was, “Where is Trotsky?” Federico agreed and

pronounced it “Trusky.” A good and faithful horse!

In 1932, Federico sent for his brother-in-law, Primo Cabianca. In Italy, the Merlos and the Cabiancas were extremely close; Federico’s wife Maria had helped raise Primo. Federico’s mother-in-law Catarina arranged to have Primo sent to Trail. In 1933 his deceased brother Euginio’s widow, Elena, came to Trail with her six children: Enrico, Angelo, Angela, Dalia, Antonio, and Gildo. Elena and her children were sponsored by Federico, Guiseppe, and Alphonso.

In 1935, Federico Merlo brought his two sisters to Trail, Emma (Nonis) and Erminia (Conzon).

Also in 1935, Federico sold the City Bakery to his brothers, Guiseppe and Alphonso.

Federico, Virginia and children Federico Jr. “Fred” and Giosepina “Josephine” travelled to Italy in 1936, living there for nine months. Upon returning to Trail they brought with them Victor, Rita (Malette), and Dina (Brown) Conzon. By 1937, Federico had returned to Italy three times and at the end of that year, Federico, Sesto Biagioni, and Pietro Borsato purchased the Union Hotel.

In 1938, Federico’s other brother, Francesco Merlo married Erminia Cescon in Italy. They eventually moved to Trail and Francesco worked in the bakery. Francesco was known as a diligent worker and a singer of the opera; they had two daughters: Mary (Hicks) and Clara (Swiatkiewicz).

In 1938, Federico was asked by Father Ballo, in charge of building St. Anthony’s church, to donate something to the church. Federico bought the St. Anthony’s bell. In 1950, a fire at St. Anthony’s cracked the bell. With the help of volunteers Mario DeRosa, Tulio Soveran and Mario Ungaro, a new bell was cast in the l980s, removing the inscription that read “In memoriam of my mother, Giusepina Merlo, donated by Federico Merlo.”

The new Union Hotel was built of brick in 1940, by Merlo and Biagioni.

In 1941 Federico became ill; he and Pat Agustonelli travelled to Rochester, Minnesota to the Mayo Clinic, and to California with Paul Muzzin to the Shimotin Health Spa. In 1941 Federico bought an acreage at Blueberry. Federico passed away on February 23, 1942 at the age of fifty-two. Josephine married Dr. D.P. Mayne and has two sons, Derek and Desmond. Frederico married Yvonne and has three daughters: Patricia, Catherine, and Christine.

In closing, a sample of Federico’s humour: A man came up to Federico and said: “Mr. Rennison of the Bank of Commerce said he would give me some money if you co-sign my note”.

Federico replied: “I’ll give you the money if he signs the note”.

MERLO, Guiseppi “Joe” and Alma

(By Joe Merlo)

I was born October 27, 1901 in Sambiagio, 18 km from Venice. I came to Canada by C.P.R. boat to Halifax, then I came to Trail. The train took five days from Halifax to Trail. That was on January 26, 1927. I came alone, but my older brother had come over before me.

I went back in 1933 and married there and brought my wife over to Trail. Her name was Alma, and she is also from Sambiagio. We have three sons: Rino, Mario, and Albert. Rino lives in Trail and owns the City Bakery; Mario is a civil engineer and lives in Vancouver, and Albert is the city planner for Windermere. I had five sisters and five brothers. I have only one brother alive now; his name is Alfonso. He lives in Trail. He was born January 23, 1908.

My only work was my own bakery, and it was hard work but I was satisfied with the profit. In those days, bread sold for seven cents to twenty-five cents for a 16 oz. loaf. I sold mostly twenty-five cent loaves. I apprenticed with my older brother in the bakery, and I bought the business from him with my younger brother Alfonso, in 1930. We didn’t have money so we paid some money every year for the bakery till we paid it off. We paid thirteen thousand dollars for the bakery. My older brother Federico had bought the business from Mr. Groutage. Mr. Groutage started the business, but he became mayor, so he sold the business. My brother had a partner named Pellizzari. Then my brother got sick and sold the business to me and my younger brother six months later, in 1933. My older brother died in 1942.

We did not have a lot of schooling but the language made it worse when we came here. We could not communicate even in our own language and other people did not understand us and we did not understand them, it was hard. (Joe Merlo passed away in January 1995)

Link here: Wednesday’s Trail Times story, “Family Behind Century Old Bakery looks to the future.”

Sheri Regnier

About the Author: Sheri Regnier

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