Five years ago, at the age of 62, Donna Lee contemplated retirement following successful careers in accounting and community healthcare. Rather than kick up her feet and retire fully, Donna opted to start a new venture that combines her passion for baking with her Indigenous and Scottish roots.
The result is Bannock Queen, a small business affiliated with DirectFood.store, a Digital Technology Supercluster project. Donna operates from her home in the Surrey neighbourhood of Cloverdale. Impressively, she singlehandedly bakes about 1,000 pieces of bannock every time she and her husband take part in a festival or market such as the Hastings Park Farmers’ Market in Vancouver.
“I start baking at about 11 p.m. and keep going until about 7 or 8 a.m., when my husband takes the bannock to the market and sells them from our Bannock Queen stall,” Donna says. “It’s important to me that our baked goods are as fresh as possible.”
Donna is proud of her original bannock recipe, which is free of sugar, dairy and yeast. In response to customer requests, the health-conscious baker has also come up with a gluten-free version and most of her creations are vegan. Her other tasty concoctions include bannock flat bread, strawberry jam and blueberry jam puffs.
Around the time she started her business, Donna explored her family history and discovered she had Irish, English and Scottish blood in addition to Indigenous ancestry dating back more than 200 years. Her Métis heritage began when a distant great-grandfather of Irish descent married a distant great-grandmother with Scottish and Cree roots. Together, they raised 15 children in Manitoba and learned to speak Cree and Ojibwe.
Donna and her husband share her family history with customers who want to learn more about the Bannock Queen and the story behind bannock. Scottish explorers and traders brought the bread to Canada in the 1700s, where Indigenous peoples in the west adopted and modified the recipe over the years.
While most of her sales are from markets, Donna is grateful for the online orders she receives regularly through DirectFood.store, a farm-to-table initiative based in Abbotsford involving partners such as Wisebox, i-Open Technologies and Novex Delivery Solutions.
Learn more about the DirectFood.store project here.