It is the wood-fired oven at Grahame’s Bakery which has been the focus of attention for the past century and a half. It measures 15 by 15 feet, and is 30 inches high at the centre. It is made of fire brick with almost a foot and a half of red sand above and below for insulation. All the iron hardware on the oven is original and has only needed minor repair over the firebox since it was built. It remains the only original wood-fired oven still in use in a working bakery in all of Canada, and was used as a model for the Fort Steele Heritage Park in British Columbia.
But on St. Patrick’s Day, 2009, there was a near catastrophe, when the mortar holding together the bricks in the arch gave way and the arch collapsed. At the time, Rick Grahame said: “If Dad had been here to see how bad it was, I think he would have said, shut the doors. It’s over”.
It was thought that decades of wildly fluctuating temperatures, from freezing nights to the 600 degrees fahrenheit it reaches when fired up every morning, had made the mortar brittle and led to the collapse.
Rick and Debbie managed to clear up the wreckage and patch the hole in the arch temporarily, until they could find skilled help to rebuild the oven properly. In an article profiling the bakery in “Bakers Journal” in 1990, the challenge they faced was explained: “It wasn’t easy. Brick oven builders aren’t common in Canada these days. After much searching, Rick found an elderly Italian mason who had rebuilt the oven in Ken Grahame’s day. Working together, they went into the shed that covers the oven and removed 30 to 60 buckets of sooty sand that insulated the arched roof. We then removed three inches of insulation and got through to where the hole was, Grahame says. Using a home built wooden arc form, they rebuilt the arches one section at a time. It took seven hundred bricks to fix the oven. Grahame says still, considering that we had thought it could take up to 1200, that’s not bad. By the end of April 2009, Grahame’s Bakery was back in business.”