Walter Bick, co-founder of Bick’s Pickle died on Oct. 17, 2011 at the age of 94. He suffered a stroke two weeks earlier.
In the weeks before his death, he talked about his success stories with his children.
The Bick’s pickle story is truly a story of great Canadian success.
In 1939, the Bick family left Europe to escape Nazi persecution by posing as Christian farmers.
The Bicks moved from Germany to Amsterdam when Adolf Hitler came to power. Soon after, they emigrated from Holland and settled in eastern Scarborough, which was farm country at the time.
Bick never intended to get into the pickle business but upon purchasing a farm, he learned the ropes of maintaining acres of it. He grew a variety of vegetables, including cucumbers, which he supplied to the Rose Brand pickle company.
The hot, hazy, humid summer of 1944 was the turning point in Bick’s career. The cucumbers flourished and it was a booming business from there.
Walter’s son Robert Bick, 46, says he remembers rolling huge barrels down a ramp into the basement as a young boy.
“That was the beginning of Bick’s Pickles… My grandfather was the first salesman.”
In an interview with CBC Radio in 1961, Bick said his business “hit the odd season where cucumbers were too plentiful and the market was kind of weak and we couldn’t get rid of our cucumbers, so we started an old family recipe and started to put our pickles in barrels.”
At that time, Bick recalls the barrels being cured out in the field and he “sold them in the wintertime to the restaurants.”
In 1951, Bick took a different approach to his pickles and decided to pack them into consumer-friendly glass jars.
The first year the pickles were packed into jars, Bick produced 60,000 jars in total. By 1960, the Bick’s company was producing 12 million jars a year with 33 varieties of pickled products.
Although he worked hard for pickles, he never cared much for the taste.
“He used to have to sample them with customers and sometimes he would grimace,” Robert Bick, said.
His bitter taste for pickles took a turn after he found a man nicknamed “Pickle Joe” in Kensington Market in Toronto, who taught him the finer points of kosher pickles.
Bick grew passionate about his business and his son recalls, “Whenever a complaint came in he would stop by their place and explain what happened.”
Robert remembers a woman being enchanted by his father’s service. “He came to see her with a case of all kinds of pickles,” he said.
As the company continued to grow, it became too much for the family to run on their own.
Bick sold his pickle empire to the Robin Hood Brand of Canada in 1966. He stayed on for a few years but left soon after when he grew disenchanted with the direction the new owners were moving in.
In 2004, the company was sold to the Smucker’s family of products, which has remained the same since.
Bick said the brine recipe that kept people coming back is the same “old home formula of flavouring that my grandma used.”
According to him, his pickles stand apart from the rest because of the use of real local ingredients: garlic, dill weed and secret spices.
The cucumbers that are used to create Bick’s Pickles are generally grown in Canada; this was something he tried to abide by.
By 1966, three million cases of pickles were being sold a year and Bick and his wife were up for a change.
Together they supported countless organizations like the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation and the Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East.
Bick was also a co-founder of the Jewish Vocational Services, an organization that helped Jewish people find jobs.
Robert Bick recalls his father saying it was a lot harder than selling pickles.
“He used to spend days on the phone calling every single person he knew to get jobs for people,” Robert also added that his parents were “addicted to helping people.”
Walter and Jeanny Bick were married for 62 years and were known for having the deepest, loving and respectful marriage. Being by each other’s sides and working hand-in-hand together was their hallmark.
Jeanny succumbed to cancer on Sept. 24, 2001. For Walter, life just didn’t have the same spark.
Nonetheless, he continued to occupy himself with helping others in need until he reached the end of his road.
Walter is survived by four children – Catherene, Robert, Frances and Eric, along with 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.