We have lost our go-to place

I remember a great many things from the Ice Storm of 1998, but one of my first memories is the morning of Day One, when we gathered in the old newsroom on King Street West.

Our managing editor at the time, David Taylor, walked in and his first announcement was: “Tait's has coffee!”

We were all Tait's regulars at the time, of course, since we were only a short walk away. Few of us were surprised to learn the Mazureks had figured out some way to keep the java hot at what would be the start of the area's biggest natural disaster.

That was Tait's for you: The go-to place.

I am quite addicted to the legal drugs available in cups of various sizes at your Timmies and Starbucks, to be sure, but Tait's Bakery was always different. Tait's was a slice of Brockville.

As I struggle to wrap my head around the fact it is no longer there, I am reminded of the way Tait's, as a symbol of Brockville's distinct identity, intersected with the news.

When Dalton McGuinty was a day away from becoming Ontario's 24th premier, in early October 2003, he chose Tait's for his Brockville bus stop.

For those of you not up to speed on Brockville history, the Mazureks, who owned the place, were staunch Liberals – and Steve Mazurek was the Grit candidate in that election.

Jubilant Liberals packed the place, to the point where I had to struggle to get a question off to the man who was at that point obviously the premier-in-waiting.

Undeterred by a young woman who told me McGuinty was not taking questions from reporters, I pressed on, put my hand on his shoulder and asked him if he would commit to the next phase of the St. Lawrence Valley Correctional and Treatment Centre.

It was a gesture that would have left me spread-eagled on the floor with two secret service guys on top of me had we been south of the border, but here at Tait's all that happened was McGuinty turning to me, pointing back to Mazurek and saying: “I'll have to get this guy's advice on that stuff.”

Rather than take tough questions, McGuinty engaged in photo-op tomfoolery. He answered the phone and comically announced everything at Tait's was free that day. He decorated a cake with the Liberal slogan.

Et cetera. We all know what happened. The premier never did take the local guy's advice, and, when Tory Steve Clark trounced Mazurek in the 2010 byelection, he brought Tait's back into the story in what is really his only true local gaffe to date.

Clark said McGuinty's Liberal government was “stale,” and added:”If it was a loaf of Tait's bread, I wouldn't even feed it to the ducks down on Blockhouse Island."

You could tell by the look on the MPP's face right after that line that he realized it was a jibe too far. He apologized the next day.

Lesson learned: Mazurek may have polled poorly in this Tory stronghold, but the quality of Tait's bread was always landslide-worthy, no polling required. The Clarks were regulars too, after all.

So integral was Tait's to the culture of Downtown Brockville that it could always be counted upon at civic events. Brockville's Canada Day cake was always a Tait's special.

And in what might have been something of a political last laugh, Clark's Tories called on Tait's to provide the victory night cake when the MPP was re-elected last year.

By then, the Mazureks had sold the bakery.

Tait's has changed somewhat,” joked riding association president Barry Raison to much laughter.

So, apparently, has the local economy that supported this business for more than a century.

Now that we have lost our go-to place, Brockville's local flavour, be it the taste of coffee or the smell of fresh bread, is diminished.

Without Tait's in the background of our local stories, we have become a little more like everybody else.