From Pemmican to Poutine: Eating in Canada

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Alex McGibbon, grocer, in shop dress, Montreal, QC, 1866
William Notman (1826-1891)
1866, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
8 x 5 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

Grocery stores proliferated in the second half of the 19th century, stocking canned, boxed, and other prepared foods on their shelves, as well as new products such as baking powder, compressed yeast, powdered gelatin and glass preserving jars. By the 1890s most breakfast cereals (puffed, toasted, flaked, extruded) were on the market in brand-name packaging. Grocery stores soon came to replace the local market as the foundation of the food supply system.

At the turn of the 20th century, innovations in marketing brought sellers and buyers closer together, and consumers discovered new forms of purchasing, including catalogues, deliveries and department stores. As the century reached its midpoint, small retailers were increasingly being replaced by self-service grocery chains such as Loblaws and Steinberg's. Mass production of food and mass distribution of goods in supermarkets homogenized the diets of rich and poor.


Jennifer Salahub, The Cult of Domesticity, webtour,, McCord Museum, 2003.

Caroline Coulombe, "Entre l'art et la science: La Littérature culinaire et la transformation des habitudes alimentaires au Québec," RHAF, vol. 58, no. 4, printemps 2005, pp. 511, 518.

Elizabeth C. Cromley, "Transforming the Food Axis: Houses, Tools, Modes of Analysis," Material History Review 44 (Fall 1996) / Revue d'histoire de la culture matérielle 44 (automne 1996), pp. 12, 20.

Carol Ferguson and Margaret Fraser, A Century of Canadian Home Cooking: 1900 through the '90s (Scarborough, ON: Prentice Hall Canada, 1992), pp. 7, 8, 55.

  • What

    The grocery of Alex McGibbon, photographed here in 1866 with his grocer's apron, offered wealthy customers a variety of rare and imported products, including wines and liquors, coffee and tea, meats and smoked fish.

  • Where

    McGibbon's Montreal gourmet grocery was first located on Notre Dame Street. It moved to St. James Street in 1864 and remained there until the 1880s.

  • When

    In 1901, refrigerated coaches began transporting perishable foods, adding fresh produce to grocers' shelves.

  • Who

    Alex McGibbon was an astute retailer who used new forms of marketing to draw customers. His was the first grocery store in Montreal to install plate-glass windows to encourage window shopping.