From Pemmican to Poutine: Eating in Canada

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Photograph, glass lantern slide
Travellers with canoes at mealtime, near Lake Temiscaming, ON-QC, about 1895
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1895, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 8 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  animal (140) , architecture (335) , birchbark (2) , boat (111) , canoe (11) , domestic (49) , East ? (2) , eating (6) , ethnology (19) , figure (1849) , group (644) , Indian (18) , Lake Temiscaming vicinity (3) , leisure (134) , leisure event (98) , log cabin (4) , male (1608) , mammal (51) , Occupation (1110) , pair (195) , Photograph (77678) , transportation (338)
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Keys to History

The explorers and fur traders who travelled through what are now Ontario and Quebec learned the techniques of living off this new land from First Nations and combined those with food traditions from their own cultures. The mix of dried buffalo meat and berries called pemmican became the staple diet of the voyageurs. Light, durable and highly nourishing, the bags of pemmican were easily stored in a canoe. This food was an essential item of the boat brigades that supplied the burgeoning networks of trading posts.

Pemmican was used in many ways. It and corn might be augmented with oat cakes and dried peas and all combined with the available fish and fowl so abundant in Canada. A favourite of the voyageurs was a dish called rubbaboo. This was pemmican made into soup by boiling it in water, then adding a little flour, sometimes a little sugar, and occasionally some vegetables or a scrap of salt pork.


Beulah M. Barss, The Pioneer Cook: A Historical View of Canadian Prairie Food (Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1980), pp. 13, 19, 65, 67.

Dorothy Duncan, Canadians at Table: Food, Fellowship, and Folklore: A Culinary History of Canada (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2006), p. 50.

Jeanne Hughes, "Eating on the Move," Consuming Passions: Eating and Drinking Traditions in Ontario, Dorothy Duncan, Meribeth Clow, Glenn J. Lockwood and Lorraine Lowry, eds. (Toronto: The Ontario Historical Society, 1990), pp. 35, 41.

Jeff Holubitsky, "Roughing it in the bush: Eating in the wilds can be a civilized experience," Edmonton Journal (Edmonton: The Edmonton Journal Group, July 26, 1995), p. C.1.

Arthur J. Ray, "Fur Trade," The Oxford Companion to Canadian History, Gerald Hallowell, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2004), retrieved November 21, 2007, from Oxford Reference Online,

  • What

    Food on the move is one important aspect of early Canadian culinary traditions. These canoemen are enjoying a well-deserved and quite elaborate meal, with tea, fish on a spit, a bowl of soup or stew and a table cloth.

  • Where

    Compared with earlier pioneering in the south of Canada, pioneering in more northern areas such as Lake Temiscaming was still difficult and lonely in the late 1880s, but technological advances in transportation provided for an imported and less uncertain food supply.

  • When

    The development of the railway system in the 1860s pushed the frontier further and further back. Pioneering settlements were still being established in the 1870s and 80s.

  • Who

    These voyageurs were sometimes called professional travellers or tripmen.