Peel’s Archives, like many municipal archives, covers the food story from farm to table. Let’s take a bite out of the collection, looking at documents and photographs that tell five stories about the final part of that process, eating. Menus and photographs help tell us what people were eating in the early 1900s, at neighbourhood diners and on cruise liners in the mid-20th century, and at Canadian-owned Italian-American style chain restaurants in the 1990s.
Canadians are big on bananas. The Canadian Fair Trade Network claims we eat 3 billion bananas a year, and that 10% of all produce sold at grocery stores is yellow and curved. While someone in The Beach neighbourhood in Toronto is able to grow bananas in his backyard, they won’t be appearing in Grown in Peel any time soon.
As anyone with a counter knows, bananas ripen ridiculously fast. Blink, and they’ve jumped from being green to brown. So surely they’d be a scarce luxury in turn-of-the-century Canada, something you’d only find in a ritzy club in Montreal.
But this photo proves otherwise.
Shipping routes by land and sea were efficient enough that, as a relatively small town, Brampton stores were able to stock bananas.
Update, 5 August 2016: BBC World Service radio program “The Food Chain” has a good segment about the shipment of food, historically, speaking to Susanne Freidberg, professor of Geography at Dartmouth College. Additionally, the Toronto Star has featured a greenhouse in Blyth, Ontario that has started to grow bananas.
The onset of food standards and safety
Early Peel was scattered with lots of local villages, offering many of the same goods and services. But in an era before massive supermarket chains and standard “Pullman loaf” (the official name for the shape of your usual sandwich bread), the product could vary widely. Both the Village of Brampton and Toronto Township (an area including much of modern Mississauga) enacted By-laws to regulate the weight and sale of bread. In Toronto Township, the two default sizes were small (not less than two pounds) and large (not less than four pounds).
Sanitary conditions were top of mind in 1912, when Brampton regulated “the delivery and exposure for sale of meat, poultry, game, flesh, fish and fruit.” The By-law ensured raw, porous food had to be covered when up for sale, stores and clothing was to be clean, that you couldn’t sleep in your stockroom, and so on. If you violated these food handling rules, you could be sentenced to up to six months in the “Common Gaol of the County of Peel”, where, by the way, this document is now stored.
(Town of Brampton By-law 441, 1912)
We have a lot of one offs about restaurants in our collection—a postcard for Cooksville’s Norseman Restaurant here, a Guardian photo of Flapjacks in Caledon there—but very few looks at restaurants in depth.
In 1993, Brampton photographer Ken Hay was hired to photograph the dishes at Grisanti’s, an Italian-American style casual dine-in restaurant. It had 32 locations as of 1989,(1) straddling the era of Mother’s Pizza Parlour and Spaghetti House chain (1970-circa 1992) and the entries into southern Ontario of Boston Pizza (1997) and East Side Mario. In Peel, the chain operated locations at 190 Main Street South in Brampton, now Clinton’s on Main, and 715 Burnhamthorpe Road West in Mississauga, now a Harvey’s. By the late 1990s, it was owned by Mississauga’s Cara Operations,(2) with its final location in Etobicoke’s Dixon Road restaurant area closing around 2012.
Corporate history aside, the photos are great in their depth of coverage, showing in colour and detail, what Canadian families might eat when dining out, plating and portioning of food, and the interpretation of recipes.
Rites and rice
Recently, the Archives accepted the records of the Canadian Bengali Cultural School of Mississauga. The Mukherjee family’s donation of school documents and photos included an invitation to an Annaprashana. Hindu culture has a variety of saṃskāra, rites of passage with ancient roots, marking the passage of life from one stage of life to another. Scheduled by a Hindu priest to happen around six to eight months after birth, the name translates literally as “eating of food”.
(Note, due to privacy concerns, the folder with this document is currently closed.)
On the menu
The top row are for the Green Lantern, 45 Main Street North, Brampton and National Cafe, Dundas Highway, Cooksville. Bottom right is the menu of Junction Diner, No. 7 & 10 Highway in a community called Westervelt’s Corners, what’s now Hurontario St and Bovaird. The final menu was from March 15, 1929 at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan.
While the Empress of England certainly never docked in Port Credit, it’s in the collection as part of the possessions of the late Sadie Sanderson, nee Thauburn, daughter of a businessman who served as Mayor of Brampton. The 1957 menus include Clam Broth Bellevue, Sardines on Toast, Crêpes au Citron, Potatoes Savoyarde, and Bachelor Pudding.
One point of envy: New York Public Library’s Rare Book Division has 17,545 menus for that city.
(1) Harvey Enchin, “Canada Trust helps Imasco break tobacco addiction”, The Globe and Mail, 10 February 1989, B10.
(2) Canadian trade-mark data, Registration number: TMA413562, section “Change in title”
Posted by Nick Moreau, Reprographics Specialist