From Pemmican to Poutine: Eating in Canada

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Cookhouse on Raft, Ottawa River, ON-QC, about 1885
William James Topley
About 1885, 19th century
Silver salts on paper - Albumen process
20 x 24 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Architecture (8646) , architecture (335) , boat (111) , cookhouse (1) , eating (6) , figure (1849) , group (644) , industry (91) , lumbering (23) , male (1608) , Ottawa River (2) , Photograph (77678) , Quebec (31) , raft (1) , raftsman (2) , squared timber (1) , temporary (20) , transportation (338) , washing (2)
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Keys to History

For centuries, countless early Canadian settlers lived, worked and ate their meals not at home, but in a variety of locations, such as fur-trading posts, military garrisons, and lumbering, mining and railway camps. In logging camps, the lumberjacks either took turns cooking for themselves or sometimes persuaded a young inexperienced logger to prepare the "great trinity" of bread, salt pork and beans. Whether they ate their meals standing up or at the table, there was a rule of silence in the larger logging camps, and lumbermen insisted that they ate those meals in less than ten minutes. Some believe that silence was imposed from the earliest days when the whole crew did their cooking, eating and sleeping all in one room.


Andrew Birrell, "William James Topley," The Canadian Encyclopedia © 2007, Historica Foundation of Canada, retrieved November 21, 2007, from

Dorothy Duncan, Canadians at Table: Food, Fellowship, and Folklore: A Culinary History of Canada (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2006), pp. 151-54.

Joan Schwartz and Colin Harding, "Migration and Photography," The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, Robin Lenman, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2005), retrieved November 21, 2007, from Oxford Reference Online,

Elinor Thomas, A Loving Legacy: Recipes and Memories from Yesterday and Today for Tomorrow (Westport, ON: Butternut Press, 1987), p. 40.

  • What

    In the first half of the 19th century, lumbering vied with agriculture in terms of economic weight in Upper and Lower Canada.

  • Where

    As the lumbering industry grew, the cookhouse was separated from the bunkhouse, resulting in the famous cookhouses where up to 40 loggers could be seated and served by employees who were called "flunkeys."

  • When

    Near the end of the 19th century, photographs like this one were increasingly used by governments, steamship and railway companies, and land speculators for the purposes of advertising, documentation and surveillance and to attract immigrants and settlers.

  • Who

    The man who took this photograph, William James Topley (1845-1930), was a professional photographer. In 1864 he joined the studio of William Notman in Montreal, an invaluable source for Canadian social history.