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The made-in-America buns at McDonald's that made Canadian bakers mad

They couldn't blame the Hamburglar, but they could point a finger at his bosses.

Burger chain's switch to a U.S. supplier put dozens of Canadian bakers out of work in 1982

No more Canadian-made buns?

39 years ago
1:53
The National reports on McDonald's deciding to switch suppliers for its hamburger buns in western Canada in 1982. 1:53

They couldn't blame the Hamburglar, but they could point a finger at his bosses.

In 1982, dozens of Canadian bakery workers were going to lose their jobs when McDonald's decided to change suppliers for some of its hamburger buns.

McGavin Foods had been making the buns that McDonald's served to many of its customers in Western Canada, but that was going to change when the burger giant was going to have a U.S. supplier send buns north to its restaurants in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

"Western Canadians will be sinking their teeth into American buns, baked with American flour and trucked across the border duty-free," the CBC's Paul Workman reported on The National on Sept. 24, 1982.

Nothing in return?

A Canadian baker had been making the buns that McDonald's used in restaurants in western Canada. (The National/CBC Archives)

Sixty-six McGavin employees were expected to lose their jobs as a result of that change in supplier, according to Workman.

"We are the people that are making these places run, by buying their Big Macs, or whatever and they can't give us nothing in return," said Darrell Karhut, a baker in Regina who spoke to CBC News about the situation.

"Like, that's no good."

Workman reported that McDonald's had indicated the McGavin-made buns weren't meeting the burger chain's required standards. And the company had cancelled the Canadian supplier's contract — in the aforementioned provinces, though not in Alberta — after it tried to raise its prices.

But McGavin had a different view of the situation, given that flour was one-third cheaper in the States.

"McGavin says it's a classic case of a Canadian company simply not being able to compete with an American firm," said Workman.

What about a boycott?

Jim Gustilov thought a boycott could affect McDonald's business. (The National/CBC Archives)

While the bakers would soon be leaving the bun line for the bread line, they weren't out of ideas on how to respond to what was happening.

In particular, they were considering trying to launch a boycott of McDonald's restaurants.

"I really couldn't say a boycott would work, but I definitely figure it would have an impact on McDonald's business," said Jim Gustilov of the Bakers' Union.

Three weeks later, that boycott effort got underway, as McDonald's restaurants in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba were targeted by bakery workers during the lunch rush.

'American Buns' to blame

'We lost our jobs to American buns'

39 years ago
1:50
After McDonald's made a change in its sourcing of hamburger buns, some people wanted others to boycott the company. 1:50

The bakers touted a slick slogan to tell their story.

"We lost our jobs to American Buns!" their leaflets said.

Many customers they were approaching seemed sympathetic to the bakers' cause, even if they didn't agree to boycott the burger chain.

"I'm in a hurry today, but I believe what the pamphlet says here, 100 per cent," said a bearded man who talked to CBC News.

The boycott effort had been endorsed by the labour federations in all three provinces where it was occurring.

An end to 'the bun war'?

Ron Marcoux tried to keep the focus on the amount of supplies that McDonald's bought in Canada for use at its many restaurants. (The National/CBC Archives)

Ron Marcoux, a regional McDonald's executive, stressed that the burger chain sourced a majority of its supplies from the north side of the border.

"McDonald's prides itself in buying Canadian," said Marcoux. "We buy over 98 per cent of our products here in Canada and I'm damn proud of that."

Workman said McDonald's warned that if the boycott effort did succeed, it could have consequences for other workers.

"If fewer people buy their hamburgers, it will also take fewer people to sell them," said Workman, explaining why layoffs could, in theory, then occur at McDonald's restaurants.

Later that year, Marcoux would be quoted in the Globe and Mail in a December report indicating that McDonald's would look to Gizella Pastries, another Canadian company, to supply buns for use at its restaurants in British Columbia.

When speaking to the Globe, Marcoux returned to the figure he'd previously cited about McDonald's purchasing practices in Canada.

"We bought 98 per cent of our products in Canada until the bun war, and our aim was 100 per cent. That has been our policy. This has simply been an interim thing."

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