Where family tradition was baked in
This past summer the community lost a special place: the Rideau Bakery closed after 90 years. For all but a few years, the bakery was located on the south side of Rideau St., between Friel and Nelson. It was founded in 1930 by two brothers, David and Abie Kardish, using recipes their mother brought from the Ukraine. Three generations worked to make it one of the best known bakeries in Ottawa. What was less well known is that one of the owners called Sandy Hill home: Sam Kardish, son of David, lived on Henderson Ave. from the day he married Tillie Steinberg in 1942.
I had the pleasure of having tea and a chat with Cheryl Kardish-Levitan, daughter of Sam and Tillie, a few weeks ago. We reminisced about the life her family led on Henderson. Her parents first rented a half double on the east side, where the Versailles apartment buildings now stand. The location was excellent for the young couple, working in the bakery only blocks away.
However with family on the way, Tillie found a house at 136 that was for sale. She moved them one block south, where they raised their three children, Larry, David, and Cheryl. When the time came that the children went off to school, Tillie rejoined Sam and his extended family behind the counter of the bakery. She was known as the Poet Laureate of the Rideau Bakery with her poems decorating the shop.
Cheryl described an idyllic childhood in a community that was teeming with children. She is still in contact with one of her first friends, Ben Sadavoy. She attended Lisgar High School and was the first Jewish head girl, being elected from a field of ten. However, she gives most of the credit to her dad, Sam, who drove the Rideau Bakery delivery van to the school on election day, handing out their famous chocolate donuts to the students reminding them his daughter was a candidate.
During the hard times of the 1930s, the bakery struggled and so Sam was taken out of school at the age of 13. His father was jailed for a day, the charge being truancy, in hopes he would relent. The bakery needed a delivery boy, and so began Sam’s life in the business. Times were hard and the profit margins slim when bread sold for just 5 cents. Cheryl remembers that the family never ate fresh bread even into her teens. Fresh bread was for the customers, day old could still be sold, but 3 day old bread was taken home because there could be no wasting.
Tillie passed away tragically young at 62 from a stroke. Sam continued to be my neighbour until 2000 when he moved into a retirement home. Those years of hard work and persistence carried him through tough times. He rode out the ice storm of 1998 staying in his home on Henderson without power. He survived thanks to the help of a space heater and an extension cord, plugged into an outlet meant for cars at the Sandy Hill Housing Coop. Sam passed away in 2004 in his eighty-eighth year. As I visited the darkened store, the day after the closing was announced, I wondered what Sam and Tillie would have felt. There on the other side of that glass in a now empty shop, a couple of neighbours laboured for years to run a family business and support three children at home, a few blocks away on Henderson Ave.