Should you be heading north of Lake Superior on the Trans-Canada Highway, be warned — you’re in range of Ontario’s most popular locally made dill pickles, available only from May through October, when Young's General Store, in Wawa, is open for business.
A fixture popular among locals and passersby alike for 46 years now, Young’s resembles a fur trade-era provisioner, with its wide wooden front porch and folksy accoutrements. It’s run by Anita Young and her son Allan Young, who go out of their way to demonstrate their local pride.
“We're always on a search for Canadian products,” says Anita. “There’s a local blueberry farm here, and we sell all their local products: jam, barbeque sauce, syrup and blueberry horseradish — it’s amazing.”
Young’s also carries a traditional summer sausage made under the store’s own label, as well as a line of old-fashioned fudge the Youngs make in-house. “There’s antiques everywhere in the store, hanging from the ceiling; there’s counters and things in the store that go back, way back. We have a stuffed moose on our porch,” she says. (It’s named Henrietta.)
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They even display the original Wawa Goose, an enormous statue installed in 1960 when the Trans-Canada was completed. The first iteration of the oversized avian — intended to draw attention to a town whose Ojibway name can be translated as “wild goose” or “land of the big goose” —was replaced after a few years, but it still stands with its wings spread wide outside Young’s.
Of all the store’s attractions, though, nothing generates more enthusiasm than the dill pickles. For more than four decades, Young’s has been offering a wooden barrel full of tangy, garlicky green torpedoes swimming in a pucker-worthy all-vinegar bath. The pickles come in all sizes, up to almost full-cucumber proportions, and in shades ranging from yellow to dark green. Visitors love to choose their own and fish them out with tongs, to be weighed out at the counter.
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The Youngs don’t make their delicious dills in-house; in fact, they’re secretive about the supplier, except to say they’ve been using the same one for 40 years. “I have been told that people have looked for pickles like this and can’t find them in a jar,” Anita says — and in any case, “I couldn’t keep up with sales if we did them here.”
Anita confesses she’s “not a big pickle fan” herself but notes that she was often at pains to keep her son and business partner Allan from drinking the juice when he was young. While customers may not jones for the juice like Allan does, they’re clearly pro-pickle. Locals and out-of-towners often make special trips to Young’s just to get their hands on some — one aficionado drove five hours from Thunder Bay to satisfy a craving.
“We go through a pile of pickles. We have to fill the barrel two and sometimes three times a day if we’re busy,” Anita says. “People from out of town, if they know someone who’s coming from Wawa, they give them a container and get them to pick some up. We have plastic gallon jars here for people who want more or they don’t have their own containers. We have had pickles go on the bus — I’ve sent two jars so far to Topeka, Kansas. They seem to end up almost everywhere.”
The pickles’ popularity is such that Young’s now offers a collection of pickle-related paraphernalia, including pickle suckers, pickle gum, and, of course, pickle chips. And for consummate fans, there’s a T-shirt that says — what else? — “I got pickled at Young’s General Store.”
Sarah B. Hood is a freelance writer and the author of We Sure Can!: How Jams and Pickles Are Reviving the Lure and Lore of Local Food.