With the spooky surprises and tasty treats of Halloween having come and gone, to continue highlighting 25 artifacts from within the Diefenbunker’s collections for our 25th anniversary, we are unwrapping a not–so–tasty treat. This week’s artifact feature is a Thrills gum package from the 1970s!
While installing the museum-wide Wi-Fi in October of 2021, a technician stumbled across something thrilling — an empty vintage gum package hiding in the rafters above the ramp leading up to the bunker’s Cafeteria. Thrills chewing gum originally dates back to the 1940s, when it was developed by the O-Pee-Chee Gum Company, a Canadian confectionary manufacturer based in London, Ontario. Their original flavours were peppermint, spearmint, and cachou. In the 1950s and 60s, when other companies began to introduce obscure flavours like teaberry and violet to candy stores across Canada, Thrills’ cachou flavour rose to fame for its reported soap-like flavour, earning the brand increased popularity.
During the Diefenbunker’s operation as Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Carp between 1961 and 1994, the Canadian Forces Exchange System (CANEX), an active retail outlet offering staples and services to those posted in Canada or abroad, would have sold products like Thrills gum for the site’s personnel. CANEX, located in the Cafeteria on the 200 Level of the bunker, was known for improving morale and providing small comforts during the Cold War — much like a neighbourhood convenience store.
This Thrills gum package from the Diefenbunker’s collections is constructed of paper. It has an off-white strip covering the upper quarter of the package, and the lower three quarters of the package is yellow. On the front, there is an oval-shaped hole in the centre that is covered in a thin plastic. The word “Thrills” is printed in blue script along the top, and “candy coated CHEWING GUM 5¢” is printed in black along the bottom. On the back, the same words are repeated, with the addition of “SWEETEN CONVERSATION“ printed in the centre and “MANUFACTURED IN CANADA BY O-PEE-CHEE COMPANY Limited LONDON, CANADA” printed along the bottom. This package, now empty, would have contained ten pieces of gum and was likely purchased in the museum’s CANEX.
The O-Pee-Chee Gum Company was eventually sold in the 1990s to a Spanish subsidiary known as Tootsie Roll Industries, an American manufacturer of confectionery based in Chicago, Illinois. Even with the change in manufacturer, Thrills gum still exists to this day. In fact, Canadians have likened the gum’s flavour to soap so frequently that the box’s contemporary design now bears the slogan “It still tastes like soap!”
Have you experienced the thrills and spills of this iconic gum? Was it a sweet delight or a soapy surprise?
Stay tuned as we continue to celebrate our 25th anniversary by uncovering stories from our museum’s collections.