Going Out

HIDDEN OTTAWA: Burning ambition at the Bougie Doozy Candle Factory

Ottawa Magazine’s October issue uncovers “hidden Ottawa” with a hole-in-the-wall handbook that embraces the city’s undercover ambience, celebrating 39 overlooked nooks, hipster hideaways, secret foodie sources, and other mysterious locales. Get your copy at Britton’s magazine store and other newsstand locations around town.

By Paul Gessell

The workshop at Bougie Doozie Candle Factory. Photo by Aaron McKenzie Fraser.

In 1969, Bruce Langer was 19. That was the year his father gave him three choices: go to university, get a job, or move out of the family’s Toronto home. “I took door number three,” Langer says with a mischievous grin. Langer left, met a California candle maker in a bar, learned the trade, and started his own business on Toronto’s Queen Street West next door to his brother’s eight-track-tape shop. He has been making candles off and on ever since.

These days the 62-year-old Langer can usually be found in a dilapidated one-storey brick building that formerly served as the Old Chelsea fire hall. From this spacious, industrial-looking location on Old Chelsea Road, he and his business partner, Greg Brayford, have operated the Bougie Doozy Candle Factory since 2003. The village of Old Chelsea has not been the same since.

Upon moving himself and the business from Ottawa to the village, Langer immediately took an apartment a few blocks away in Old Chelsea’s Dunn House, a heritage building that back in the 1800s, was a hotel of sorts for loggers and, according to local legend, prostitutes. Langer started throwing dance parties — “love fests,” he calls them — in the candle factory. Some of the most popular love fests were held during the years when the owners of Dunn House staged annual erotic-art exhibitions around Valentine’s Day. (Today the exhibitions are no more and there are fewer parties at the candle factory, although a Brayford family wedding dance was held this summer among the colourful drums of molten wax.)

Langer’s youthful, party-animal nature is very ’60s — and so is his idealism. He ran for Chelsea town council two years ago in the hope of bringing more transparency to that elected body. He lost the election but remains the favourite grand pooh-bah of Old Chelsea Road. And he is, in fact, proud to be called an “aging hippie.”

A visit to his Bougie Doozy Candle Factory is akin to taking an acid trip: there is a dizzying kaleidoscope of colours, aromas, and sounds inside the building. It’s like a summer-of-love craft fair with pottery, leather goods, and homemade greeting cards. But the place is best known for its made-on-the-premises candles in dozens of colours, sizes, shapes, and scents that include honeydew melon, patchouli, and English lavender. Products change with the seasons. Autumn means candles created in fall colours and decorated with wax maple leaves. (You might have smelled Bougie Doozy candles at such eateries as Fresco on Elgin Street, Le Resto in Chelsea, and Le Hibou in Wakefield.)

Doozy’s signature cylindrical, refillable candle comes in five sizes. The largest, the Fat Boy, is seven inches high and six inches in diameter and burns for about 300 hours. Just the middle disappears. The decorated outer wax shell remains and can be refilled back at the factory, where retro music by the Beatles, Blues Brothers, and other legends plays constantly, courtesy of Technicolour Web of Sound: ’60s Psychedelic Internet Radio.

The origins of the Bougie Doozy name are complicated. You only need to know that one day, while Langer and Brayford were just starting the business in Ottawa from an apartment atop Pancho Villa restaurant on Elgin Street, Langer’s daughter walked in, spotted Brayford, and said, “Hi, Doozy.” Light bulbs lit up over everyone’s head, and Doozy became the name of the candles sold in the ByWard Market. “Bougie” was added with the move to Quebec in an attempt to Frenchify the name. The French word bougie has various meanings, including “sparkplug” and “big candle.” These days, in Old Chelsea, bougie also means the fulfillment of an old hippie dream born in a bar on the streets of Toronto.

Bougie Doozy Candle Factory, 181 Old Chelsea Rd., Chelsea, 819-827-1636, www.doozycandle.com