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More than a Salad Dressing and “See’s Famous Old Time Candies”

It is almost Christmas and I am about to buy several boxes of candy to give as presents. Of course I know all about See’s Candy Company because I love chocolate. But I did not have any idea that the founder of company has a very strong link to the Thousand Islands. Yes, once again the Thousand Islands is more than a salad dressing1.

Recently, while in California for the U.S. Thanksgiving, my daughter-in-law gave me a present, saying, "You may already know about this company, but I thought you may like to have this book in your library”. See's Famous Old Time Candies, by Margaret Moos Pick, was published in 2005 by Chronicle Books. On page 19, is a short biography of Mary See whose son, Charles A. See, started the company in California in 1921. Ms. Pick’s history was a most-welcome gift for someone who is fascinated by links to the Thousand Islands and has a weakness for chocolate!

Mary See was the daughter of John Wiseman and Mary Cox. She was born in 1854 on Howe Island near Gananoque. The biographer did not know very much about the Canadian family, but she does link the family intimately with the Islands.

Mary See, born on Howe Island
Photo: permission to print these photos is given by See's Candies®
"Is Mary See real?"  "Absolutely" is the answer the company always gives. It is true, as Mary See was born on Howe Island, Frontenac County, Ontario and she developed her famous candy recipes in Gananoque.

She writes, "Her father, an immigrant from Ireland, was a farmer. The nearest mainland town was Gananoque, and Mary always thought of ‘Gan’ as her hometown."

Mary  married Alexander See, and they operated the Tremont Hotel on Tremont Island ( one of the Admiralty Islands)  for several years. It was at the hotel that Mary See’s guests first enjoyed her homemade candy. Alexander See died in 1919 in Kingston.  

Her husband, who died in 1919, is buried in Gananoque's Willowbank Cemetery.  Several of his descendants still live in the area.  In 1921, Mary moved to Los Angles with her son Charles, and his wife.  Two years later, Charles opened his first store and as "they " say, the rest is history.  

Sees_OldShop2 See's ladies packing chocolates
Photo: permission to print these photos is given by See's Candies®
The See's Candy store has a distinctive look, described as "Black and White and loved all over".  When California's population grew, so did the See's candy stores.  Today there are more than 200 stores in the West.

According to Margaret Moos Pick, part of that history was retold in the 1950s as the famous Chocolate Factory production line by Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy”.  Both Lucy and Vivian Vance learned the ropes by spending a day on the See production line. 

And it is interesting to note that the links do not end with Mary See, her birthplace on Howe Island and her son’s candy company. In 1972, the See company was added to the Investment portfolio of the famous-and-legendary investor, Warren Buffett, where it remains to this day and there are now over 200 See's shops throughout the western United States. 

As it is almost Christmas, I am about to buy several gift boxes of chocolate.  Will it be See's? Certainly!  I also take this opportunity to wish all our readers a festive holiday season and Happy New Year.

By Susan W. Smith






More than a Salad Dressing… Years ago, I met a young medical student and I was telling her about my favorite vacation region. I got carried away, and soon I was relating facts about the War of 1812, the ships that plied the St. Lawrence River, the battles… “Gee,” she exclaimed, The Thousand Islands is more than a Salad Dressing”. Since that time I have found many links to people, places and events that prove that links to the Thousand Islands are like six degrees of separation, and our region is almost the center of the world!

Posted in: Places, People
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kristen goode
Comment by: kristen goode
Left at: 2:16 PM Thursday, February 19, 2009
absolutly delicious
Barb Woollacott
Comment by: Barb Woollacott ( )
Left at: 3:30 PM Friday, October 2, 2009
I have just received a box of See's Famous Old Time Candies, they were absolutely fantastic! But my question is "Where can I find them"??? I live in toronto Ontario Canada, if so please email me to let me know.

Jack Casetta
Comment by: Jack Casetta ( )
Left at: 11:29 PM Monday, January 4, 2010
Interesting short biography. When did Mary See and Charles See die?
Tara See
Comment by: Tara See ( )
Left at: 12:35 PM Saturday, February 13, 2010
i was wondering how did you get all this information on Great Aunt Mary See..... My Family has been looking everywhere for some of the information you have on her........ And Great Aunt Mary See Died in the 70's
Comment by: Riely ( )
Left at: 8:36 PM Thursday, February 25, 2010
I am I am doing a report on her and this really helped thanx:D
Comment by: Bhruna ( )
Left at: 2:41 PM Friday, August 10, 2012
Absolutely wonderful. The See's chocolates are gifts from clients every trip they make to the Bahamas. There is no better assortment of chocolate treats!