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A little piece about big history

The next time you drive east of Laird through the Leaside Business Park take a moment to notice a little piece of history at the intersection of Vanderhoof and Brentcliffe.

The tiny building, on the southeast corner at 115 Vanderhoof, is home to Charmaine Sweets, a bakery opened last December by owner Teresa Ho, who made her goodies and treats in the basement of her house before opening the retail storefront.

115 Vanderhoof played an important part of Leaside’s contribution to World War II.

The building is thought to be one of the many (and one of the few surviving) that were part of the 750,000 square feet of engineering and manufacturing space used by Research Enterprises Limited (REL) to produce $220 million worth of radar equipment and precision optical instruments between 1940 and 1946. 

Spread over 55 acres, REL, a crown corporation created by the National Research Council (NRC) to further Canada’s development of radar equipment, managed to supply 8,300 radar sets to Canadian, British, and U.S. forces over those six years.

According to Jane Pitfield’s book, Leaside, REL was the largest single employer up to its closure in the history of Leaside, a record that likely stands to this day.

It employed 7,500 people at the height of its production. At one point REL was operating two shifts of 60 hours per week just to keep up with the government’s supply requirements.

As the war came closer to an end the need for radar waned.

In December 1944, 600 Leaside residents were given their pink slips. Between 1943 and 1946, Leaside employment declined by 60 percent. In September 1946, REL operations were shuttered and the facilities sold off to a number of businesses, including Lincoln Electric, still a big part of the Leaside Business Park today.

As for Teresa Ho, her business is a labour of love launched at a time when most people are settling into retirement. Fortunately, she’s got a bunch of talented family members helping out.

Prior to Ho opening her bakery, the building was occupied by the Children’s Music Room, which has since moved downtown.