When CBC first heard about Nanaimo bars

An award-winning recipe by a baker in Nanaimo, B.C., for a sweet layered treat caught the attention of CBC's Midday in 1987.

Recipe for triple-layer treat got Midday's attention in 1987

A B.C. baker's "ultimate" Nanaimo bars

Digital Archives

33 years ago
CBC's Midday talks to a woman who extended her recipe into a business selling aprons and tea towels in 1987. 6:14

Who ever heard of a "Mississauga bar?"

According to two different sources from two different CBC programs in two different years, it was an alternate name for the triple-layer treat most people know as the Nanaimo bar.

The chocolatey, custardy square made with coconut flakes and graham cracker crumbs was in the news recently when New York Times Cooking published a photo on its Instagram account that "flubbed" the ratio of the layers, according to CBC News.

"The bars gained widespread popularity after Vancouver-based author and caterer Susan Mendelson published a recipe for the sweet treat in her 1980 cookbook, Mama Never Cooked Like This," CBC News reported this week. 

Yesterday, Mendelson was a guest on CBC Radio's As It Happens to discuss the recipe. 

Award-winning recipe

By the end of 1987, CBC's Midday had caught up to the trend and interviewed Joyce Hardwick, a Nanaimo woman who had become a "local celebrity" when her recipe was deemed "the ultimate Nanaimo bar." 

"Even the local cable station got into the act," said Midday host Sue Prestedge. The station had produced a 15-minute instructional video in which Hardwick made the unbaked dessert for those watching at home.

Hardwick said that a contest to choose the "ultimate" recipe was dreamed up by the town's mayor after he met someone "in a foreign country" who had heard of the local dessert.

"I didn't expect that I would win," said Hardwick, who emerged victorious after multiple rounds and a final bake-off involving 12 people.    

Her prize was a two-minute shopping spree at a grocery store and seeing her recipe — which eschewed walnuts in favour of almonds, among other tweaks — printed on aprons, tea towels and a handout from the local visitors' bureau.

Mississauga bars?

CBC Radio's Morningside peels away the layers of a favourite Canadian sweet in 1989. 8:15

Two years later, CBC Radio's Morningside delved into the history of Nanaimo bars with a local expert.

"Anyone with a sweet tooth has probably had their fill of Nanaimo bars by now," host Liz Palmer said in a broadcast that aired on Boxing Day in 1989.

She said the treat was alternately known by various names, including New York Special (or Slice), Mississauga Bars and others.

"A lot of people like to claim fame to them," said guest Diana Johnstone, who was on the phone from Nanaimo and had researched the history of namesake bar. "We really believe that they originated here or came here early."

In 1987 a cable TV station in Nanaimo was said to have aired a 15-minute instructional video for how to make the triple-layered treat. (Midday/CBC Archives)

Johnstone, who said she had conducted her research while writing a magazine article, said "the favourite story" about the bar's origins was that it went back to the "late 1800s, from England."

"If that story's the true one, there must be an equivalent dessert in Britain today," said Palmer. 

That would be London Smog bars, said Johnstone, adding that her grandmother had claimed to have made them as a girl in England.

"In that case, the people of Nanaimo are kind of shameless in claiming this bar as your own," said Palmer.

The origins remain murky.

According to the recent CBC report on the New York Times Cooking "controversy," the bar was named for that place "where it was invented in the mid-1950s" — Nanaimo. 

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