From Pemmican to Poutine: Eating in Canada

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MP-0000.59.1 I-22189.1 VIEW-3729 MP-1977.76.99 ND-37-5 M993X.5.826.1 II-111790 MP-1974.133.127 M975.79.1A-Z
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Charles Selby Haultain, Henrietta "Etta" Haultain and Robert Mitchell "Robin" Haultain, sitting down to dine, Regina, SK, about 1891-94
1891-1894, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © Glenbow Museum
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Keys to History

As a space of family cohesiveness and belonging, the dining room presented the family's aspirations for gentility and status. In the late 19th century, the dining room was the scene of important social ritual. As early as the mid-1800s, the ownership of a home with a dining room had become a middle-class urban symbol of status. Dining room furniture came on the market in suites of preselected pieces, such as a table and chairs for the centre of the room, a sideboard and a china closet for the periphery. As meals and the furnishings to support dining became more elaborate, dining in other rooms of the house began to seem ungenteel. The Victorian dining room was meant to mask the work of food preparation of the wife/housekeeper serenely seated at the head of the table. By the 1870s, butler's pantries appeared in house-plan books for middle-class clients. A butler's pantry was a room for servants that linked the dining room with the kitchen; it served as a buffer zone to control and protect the dining room from the flow of traffic and the smells and sounds of kitchen labour.


Christina Bates, "Conspicuous Consumption: Family, Food, and Society in Late 19th Century Ontario," Consuming Passions: Eating and Drinking Traditions in Ontario, eds. Dorothy Duncan, Meribeth Clow, Glenn J. Lockwood and Lorraine Lowry (Toronto: The Ontario Historical Society, 1990), p. 241.

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. 110-111.

  • What

    This family photograph shows a casual and intimate dining scene, complete with three family members, a domestic and a cat. The boar's head next to the centrepiece stresses the importance of display in Victorian dining and is also a symbol of hospitality.

  • Where

    This upper-class home was certainly equipped with a butler's pantry, which would have been situated next to the dining room.

  • When

    By the late 19th century, a typical upper-class dining room contained its own specific furniture, including china cupboards and sideboards that testified to artistic and economic status.

  • Who

    Charles Selby Haultain (1862-1903) of Ontario became an assistant surgeon to the North West Mounted Police in 1890 and married Henrietta "Etta" Dennistoun (1866-1945). Her letters, memoir, recipe book and photographs documented 13 years of life in western Canada.