williamthomaswBy William Thomas

With the phone disconnected, the place darkened and a “For Sale” sign out front, Judy’s Bakery is no more. A damn shame, that. Judy’s was a Port Colborne landmark, a bakery famous for cholesterol-lowering muffins and not having a drive-thru.

Many years ago, when the pastry shop was located at the Portal Village strip mall, Judy found herself in the middle of a very bad day. She was getting ready to bury her husband when a policeman knocked on the door of her Wainfleet home to inform her that a car had just crashed through the front of her bake shop.

Judy, an early riser and a punctual person, would be late for her late husband’s funeral.

When she arrived at the bakery, amid all the debris there was a car parked in the fresh bread section. It was a bizarre scene, a once-in-a-lifetime event. At least it would have been except five years later another car crashed through the front window making it a twice-in-a-lifetime event. Hoping not to be “three times unlucky,” Judy considered erecting a STOP sign at the front door or a sign that read — YIELD TO PAYING CUSTOMERS.

In the more recent “car crash in aisle #3” event, a 75-year-old lady was exiting her parking spot directly in front of the store, when she hit the accelerator instead of the brake and sheared off both side mirrors as the car plunged through the front door and windows.

She and the car came to rest at the cash register at the back of the store. Joanne, the only employee, later had the rare glimpse of seeing herself running for her life on the surveillance tape. Although no customers were in the store at the time of the crash, 20 people had been in there five minutes earlier.

When the smashing of glass and crunching of wood stopped, the elderly lady tried to put the car in reverse and back out of the store. “What accident?” “What damage?”

Quite quickly, the area was swarming with police and firefighters as well as curious onlookers. Judy immediately returned from a visit with another shopkeeper in the mall and implemented the bakery’s crisis management plan. Butter tarts. With three dozen freshly baked butter tarts, she made her way through the crowd comforting everybody with a treat, a smile and a few consoling words.

A good ol’ girl from Wainfleet, Judy explained that’s what you do in these parts — ease the pain of people in distress with baked goods and a kind word.

So, within minutes of what could have been a great tragedy, you had Niagara Regional police and Port Colborne firemen enjoying Judy’s butter tarts. Bill Steele, the insurance guy, and Lester Shoalts, the mall owner, were discussing repairs while catching crumbs in their hands. Quite distraught, the husband of the lady driver was so upset, he felt he needed two tarts.

So, in the small town of Port Colborne, population 18,450, calamitous events are followed by a meet-and-greet, butter tart reception.

Once is an accident, twice is an amazing coincidence, three times … the word went around town loud and clear: JUDY’S BAKERY DOES NOT, I REPEAT, DOES NOT HAVE A FREAKIN’ DRIVE THRU!!! OKAY?!?

It was clearly explained that if you enter Judy’s Bakery in your car, you still had to wait in line behind the pedestrians that got there first. And if you did enter the store behind the wheel of your car, no matter how much dust and debris might fall down around you, do not hit the windshield washer button. That was just going to make the sausage rolls soggy.


Judy also wanted it known that she was not responsible for any vehicle or its contents parked in the store overnight. Although I must say that just after the accident, the crash diet muffins were virtually flying out the door and that special “50 percent off loaves of bread with tire tracks” was a real nice touch.

The placing of speed bumps under the cookie counter to give Joanne a bit of a head start next time — that was my idea. I also suggested a crossing guard for people going from the quiche display to the sticky bun shelf.

Not long after the crash, Judy moved her bakery closer to the downtown core. When I asked her why she relocated, she once again showed that wonderful sense of humour. “More traffic.”

And that’s why I love small town living. People don’t die in a smash-up between a car and a bakery shop. They just gain a pound or two if they stay too long at the scene of the accident.

Judy’s Bakery is one of those landmarks you don’t replace and never forget.

For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca.