Famed Virginia candy shop owner dies after short illnessChristmas Day marked a day off and the end of the season for the popular Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen in Knife River. Twin sisters and shop owners Pamela Matson and Patricia Canelake mused Wednesday that their father died that day for a reason. He wouldn’t have wanted to interrupt their candy making.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Christmas Day marked a day off and the end of the season for the popular Great! Lakes Candy Kitchen in Knife River.
Twin sisters and shop owners Pamela Matson and Patricia Canelake mused Wednesday that their father died that day for a reason. He wouldn’t have wanted to interrupt their candy making.
With a strong work ethic, business savvy and an old-fashioned joy of people, John Canelake became a beloved figure in Virginia through the Virginia Candy Co., later Canelake’s Candies.
He died Tuesday at age 92, but his legacy lives on in his daughters’ store and in the 107-year-old Canelake’s in Virginia.
“Whatever you do, always continue the recipes,” Matson said of her father’s advice when she and her sister decided to revive a family tradition in Knife River in 2007. “Don’t skimp on the butter or the cream.”
John Canelake had been out of the business for about 30 years when his daughters came up with the idea to start a new store after their own retirements. The Virginia shop had been taken over by one-time apprentice Jim Cina.
Both stores have thrived.
The Virginia Candy Co. was started in 1905 by John Canelake’s father, Gust, and his uncles.
In a 2005 story in the News Tribune about the store’s anniversary, John Canelake talked about his earliest days at the store.
“I forced myself in here,” he said. “I told my dad I’d come in here every Saturday and polish the fountain for 35 cents.”
It was hard work, and Canelake told his children that he wanted them to go college so they wouldn’t have to work as hard.
It was a typical generational immigrant family tale, Patricia said. She became a teacher and her sister a librarian. They never thought they’d be back in the candy business they knew as children.
“She started making candy,” Patricia said of Matson. Soon they were talking about a store and found an old fish shop in Knife River.
Matson said her father advised his girls for a while. It always started with him saying he couldn’t remember this or that recipe, Matson said. But he would always come around and know exactly how something was made.
“He recently told us, ‘I have nothing left to teach you,’” Matson said. “I was thrilled with that.”
Part of John Canelake’s charm was his artistic ability in displays.
“He was good at the marketing part of it,” Matson said. Her sister takes that role in their shop.
“I admired my dad for what he could do,” Matson said.
“People connect good memories to candy,” she said.
People who remember her father often come to the store in Knife River with memories to share.
For many in Virginia, date night included a stop at the candy shop and its soda fountain.
And they remember John Canelake in front of his store on the Fourth of July with his nutty ice cream bars.
His favorite candies were the crèmes, Matson said, especially the raspberry. He was also proud of his caramel and fudge recipes.
Canelake had been suffering from heart problems in recent years, and after some trouble on Christmas Eve it was decided he should enter hospice care.
Matson said her father was sharply intelligent and was happy to have the hospice option after being lucky enough to live in his own home for so many years after his wife died.
“He said his life was complete and that now he wasn’t feeling so good,” Matson said. It was a blessing for the family to hear that, she said.
It was still a hard day on Christmas, she said. “It’s also Mom’s birthday.”