The Rogers Chocolates Building
By Danda Humphreys
A sweet love story.
The Rogers Chocolates Building in 2005
Rogers Chocolates, an institution in Victoria for more than a century, opens its door to the public during normal shopping hours. But when Charles Rogers was alive, he opened and closed his store whenever he pleased. Victorians and visitors alike catered to his whims in return for the opportunity to purchase his delectable delicacies.
Rogers was a native of Petersham, Massachussetts who wandered west in his early teens, and in 1885, at the age of 31, decided to try his luck in Victoria. Selling produce on the west side of Government Street, he soon recognized a more lucrative opportunity. Using trial and error, he married his fruits with the finest, freshest ingredients, and eventually found the magic combination that, to this day, no one has quite been able to match.
By this time, he had fallen in love with a local lass called Leah Morrison. The two were married in May 1888, and set up home on Kingston Street, in James Bay. In 1890, their son Frederick was born. In 1903, Rogers acquired a two-storey block on the opposite side of Government Street, and rented it out to a local merchant.
With a thriving business, and young Fred being groomed to join it, Charles and Leah seemed to be leading a charmed life. But all was not well in the Rogers household. Fred showed little interest in the candy business, and had developed a morbid fascination with explosives. In 1905, tragedy struck twice. First, Fred lost three fingers in an explosives-related accident. A few months later, he rented a room at the New England Hotel, wrote a note to his parents, then shot himself to death. He was just 15 years old.
Grief-stricken, Charles and Leah buried their son, then buried themselves in their business. They rose early and worked late. Charles hung up a sign proclaiming the day’s operating hours, and by the time they opened the door, people were lined up and down Government Street. The entire inventory was sold, often within an hour, and the shop was closed again. In the afternoons, they attended to their mail-order business. Rogers Chocolates were now being shipped to chocolate lovers all over the world.
In 1917, Charles moved his business across the street and into his own building. The couple lived a simple life, and preferred to entertain themselves. When he was able, Charles bought expensive gifts for Leah, and nothing pleased him more than to have her put on the furs and diamonds he had given her, and sit with him in the kitchen while he worked.
Eccentric? Yes. Devoted to each other? Absolutely. Hard workers? Without a doubt. When Charles died of a heart attack in 1927 at the age of 73, he left an estate worth almost $300,000. Leah donated money to charities, made poor investments, and gradually lost all that Charles had left her. When she died, in 1952, at the age of 88, she was living on an old age pension.
Victoria has grown and Government Street has changed. But if Charles Rogers were alive today, he would doubtless be delighted that his store is still locally owned, his original recipes and methods are still used, and his store survives—exactly where he left it—all those years ago.
Danda Humphreys is a Victoria author, speaker, storyteller and guide. Her latest book, Building Victoria, is available in your local bookstore. www.dandahumphreys.com.
This story was published in the May 2005 edition of Focus Magazine.