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Dorothy Davies Adventures at Pragnell’s Bakery

“Dad”Pragnell and his wife Elizabeth Royal Mills had come to Portage la Prairie and established a bakery in the old Cassell’s Bakery location. The building still stands and is currently on the market for sale (next to Olina Fashions).They were from London and English to the core. They had grow up around bake shops and they knew just how to run one efficiently. They were however, right next door to that dynamo of a baker of bread T. Bailey, who not only churned out thousands of loaves of bread a day but also had a tea room and an ice cream parlour. Bailey even manufactured his own ice cream in a building to the rear of his monumental building on the corner of Tupper and Saskatchewan Avenue. Bread in those days sold for five cents a loaf. Bailey would sometimes special it out at six loaves for a quarter. This was a popular sales promotion in a world where bread was often the main commodity at a meal.

But Pragnells held their own in this competitive bread market because as Dorthy Davies, their head girl, said, their bread tasted and smelled like the loaves that came out of Granny’s oven! Unsold bread was sold off the next day at the back door. Pragnells would never sell it in the front of the store to the gentry even if they asked for day old bread. They thought it should be kept for those who really needed a bargain! Deliveries, even in 1939, were by horse drawn cart and Jack Pragnell handled the reins. The horses were stabled at Moon’s Stables on First S.W.

The Pragnell family had two other sons,and Vic, ended up with the Royal Engineers overseas. “Dad” Pragnell passed away in 1942 and his indomitable wife carried on the business with her two popular sons and an excellent staff.

Dorothy Davies recalled that new faces filled the town as the War progressed and the two air bases became institutions. Southport and McDonald were the centre of the communities social life and for many the centre of their love life. Rationing was making the bakery business a real hassle, for butter, sugar and flour were rationed but somehow Portage bakers still turned out a supply of baked goods only now there was nothing left over for the poor! Part of Pragnell’s success can be laid squarely on the shoulders of loyal and amiable lasses such as Dorothy Davies. Her wonderful smile and wit encouraged you to buy and it was the pleasant banter that brought you back.

As the War progressed talk in the shop became morose. People were coming in and telling of losing their fathers and brothers. Conversations dealt with the front, the losses and whether there was any hope, or maybe not, of winning this war. Some days the town would be sunk in the blues such as when word hit the street that one of the towns favourite sons, Orville McKillop, had been killed in a prisoner of war camp. The miseries of Europe were starting to hit home.

Back in those aromatic confines of Pragnell’s Dorothy dispensed an endless profusion of Parker House rolls, sultana scones, and Paris Buns. Now, the girls always thought that old Dad Pragnell was pulling their leg when he marked the buns “Paris”. but one day after the War, two English War Brides came in and remarked in their East London accents, “Oh look, dearie, there’s some Paris buns!”Arranged under the oval counter were creme puffs and creme rolls sprinkled with icing sugar, ginger snaps with one half almond on each, trays of peanut cookies, short breads and doughnuts. Birthday cakes were a popular item and because people would order them at the last minute the cook left tubes of coloured icing for Dorothy to script on the names. As October rolled in the aromas of the shop changed to that of hot pumpkin pies and tarts. The first snow would see steamy mince pies and sausage rolls glistening in the show window perched on silver trays. Bake shops competed to see who could lay on the most beautiful Christmas window.


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