Potatoes on Prince Edward Island
© Denzil Green
- 1 Aboriginal Food in Canada
- 2 Beverages in Canada
- 3 Cheese in Canada
- 4 Dairy in Canada
- 5 Holidays
- 6 Meals
- 7 Meat in Canada
- 8 Modern Food in Canada
- 9 Myths about food in Canada
- 10 Regions
- 11 Street Food
- 12 Vegetables in Canada
- 13 Wheat in Canada
- 14 Canadian Food Achievements
- 15 Canadian food imports by broad categories
- 16 History Notes
- 17 Prohibition in Canada
- 18 Appliances in Canada
- 19 Dairy History in Canada
- 20 Toronto Delicatessens
- 21 Metric Kitchen Measurements
- 22 Literature & Lore
- 23 Sources
The roots of English-Canadian cooking are British-American.
Ethnic food started came to the fore in Canadian food magazines and kitchens in the 1970s. Still, when Canadians talk about “good old-fashioned food”, it’s the pre-1980s dishes and foods that they are referring to.
[Note: the broader topic of Canadian food traditions includes Québécois Food, Acadian Food, Métis, Newfoundland and the cooking of many different First Nations. Articles on each distinct cuisine are underway. This article is about the British-American tradition.]
It was a Canada where there was a day of the week you made bread, and a day of the week you made butter, and a time of church and community hall suppers, with tables groaning with food brought in by the ladies from their kitchens. Geniuses at math, they’d know that to feed a turkey dinner to 250 people you’d need 7 turkeys, 75 pounds of squash, 75 pounds of potatoes, 20 large cranberry jelly rings and 44 pies. Plus 10 bunches of celery to garnish the glasses of tomato juice.
Far from being a food wasteland, there was a plethora of foods, at these events, and at home. The ordinary, every-day food list may have included:
- roast chicken, corn, gravy, mashed vegetables such as potato, squash, turnip and carrot, scalloped potatoes, cabbage rolls, devilled eggs, roast beef cooked (one choice) well-done, pot roast, glazed hams, roast turkey, spare ribs in 4 different sauces, green and yellow beans, meatloaf and gravy, chow mein and tuna casseroles;
- pancakes, pork and beans for breakfast, baking powder biscuits, strips of American-class bacon (peameal bacon being too expensive for everyday use), pancake syrup (maple syrup being too expensive for everyday use), chowder, boiled dinners with dumplings;
- relish, chow-chow, pickles (dill, bread and butter, yum yum’s, sweet mixed), hot dog relish, chili sauce;
- sparkling jelly salads in a place of pride to catch the light and reflect it;
- bean salads, coleslaws, tossed lettuce salads, potato salads with boiled dressings, Waldorf salad, macaroni salad;
- oatmeal cookies, hermit cookies, squares, pies, butter cakes, apple betty, brown sugar fudge, Queen Elizabeth Cake, banana bread, angel food cake, marble cake.
The most published food writer in the world (Jean Paré), with 23 million copies of her books sold as of 2006, is a Canadian, and these are the foods she teaches Canadians how to make. Many mothers, rushing through the 1970s and 1980s working to help make ends meet as after-tax incomes in Canada dwindled and the cost of living went up, didn’t have time to learn them, so the knowledge was almost lost with their generation. And to boot, the food press started looking down on these old foods.
Chinese food was considered exotic, but perhaps not entirely foreign. Take out was Chinese, Dairy Queen, fish and chips, A&W, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and chip wagons. The odd town was lucky enough to have a pizza parlour and a spaghetti house.
Aboriginal Food in Canada
Aboriginals are called “First Nations” in Canada. European settlers introduced to them metal vessels to cook in, as well as basic ingredients such as adding salt to food, cooking in fat, and the use of wheat flour and refined sugar. Potatoes, though grown by natives in South America, were introduced to natives in North America via Europe. In turn, the natives introduced foods to the Europeans such as fiddleheads, wild rice, and maple syrup.
Some Indian nations (such as the Algonquin, Cree and Ojibway) were hunters and gatherers. West coast natives tended to be fishers.
Beverages in Canada
- Alcohol laws vary by province. Alberta and Québec are the only provinces in Canada where alcohol does not have to be bought from the state; Alberta privatized the sale of alcohol in 1993, apparently without the dire consequences that were predicted from those who had benefited from the previous state monopoly. (See also Québecois Food.) As of 2003, British Columbia has been slowly converting a few stores at a time to private-sector stores. But free market stores are finding it hard to compete, as they must still buy their alcohol from the state monopoly which only gives them a 13% discount on their shelf price;
- In British Columbia, you can take home unfinished bottles of wine from restaurants;
- In Ontario you may take your own bottle of wine to participating restaurants but will be charged a “corking” fee.
- In the aboriginal nations that are now part of Canada’s northern territories, prohibition remains in effect in many communities. In any event, the cost of alcohol is very high because it is flown in;
- Beer remains the preferred form of alcohol in Canada by more than double that for spirits or wine — in 2005, 50.7% of alcohol sales were beer, 24.7% spirits, 24.6% wine;
- Only 40% of Canadians have access to fluoridated water;
- It is illegal to sell raw milk for drinking anywhere in Canada.
Until March 2010, Canadian law only allowed caffeine in cola soft drinks. This meant, for instance, that a different version of Mountain Dew had to be made for Canada, giving it a taste different from the original made in America. The EU had raised this issue since 1998 as a trade barrier. (SPS Trade Barrier Fiche: 010019- Canada- Caffeine in soft drinks.) The law was scrapped in March 2010. [Toronto Sun. More drinks can have caffeine: Health Canada. 19 March 2010 and CBC News. Caffeine in sodas OK: Health Canada. 19 March 2010.]
Cheese in Canada
Canada seems to have opted for uniformity of quality in cheese, even though that quality isn’t necessarily great. The few “speciality” cheddar cheeses available at supermarkets, such as a brand called Balderson, is actually owned by the giant dairy company, Parmalat. The Canadian cheese market is largely controlled by Parmalat, Kraft, and Agropur (founded 1938, taking in nearly 3,000 employees and 5,000 farmers.) Even Hershey’s chocolate in Canada is produced by Agropur under licence.
Health Canada at times has wanted to ban even real Parmesan cheese, because it’s made with unpasteurized milk. Had Health Canada been successful Canadians would have lost Sbrinz, Gruyere and Romano, as well, in addition to many European soft cheeses. In 1996, the government made a concerted effort to ban unpasteurized milk cheeses completely. Some say it was a way to ban the real versions of the cheeses, and instead force consumers to buy domestic knock-off versions; others saw it as a way to put any remaining small cheese producers out of business and hand it over to larger ones who could meet the regulations.
Anyone hoping to make cheese in Canada also has to buy “milk quota” from a government agency in order to secure a supply of milk. If you’re hoping to start producing cheese at a time when there is no spare quota available, you have to try to talk some other cheesemaker into selling you theirs, or you can’t start business. The province of Quebec has 47% of the quota rights to produce milk in Canada; the remaining 53% is split amongst the other 9 provinces.
Nor can you bypass the government by just getting your own herd of cows. It is illegal to make cheese from milk that wasn’t purchased from the government agency in most provinces. A rare licence, though, has been granted to the Upper Canada Cheese company in Jordan, Ontario (in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula) to use milk from its own Guernsey Cow herd starting in late 2005 (not all the cheese they make, however, is from their own milk.) Sadly, by April 2006, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) had to put out a recall advisory on two of their cheeses that may been contaminated with Salmonella. They were allowed to reopen on 12th May; the salmonella was traced to milk from one of their suppliers.
In a few provinces, goat’s and sheep’s milk are not restricted by any government laws, and farmers can make cheese from their own milk if they so choose.
American cheese shops seem interested in carrying some Canadian cheeses, but say the high cost makes it hard for them to sell. Cheese prices across the border in America are often half of what they are in Canada.
Dairy in Canada
Selling unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada.
Milk has to be pasteurized by licensed pasteurizing plants. By law, these plants are only allowed to process Canadian milk.
In 2009, a law (the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, Bill C-6,) was proposed that would allow health authorities to search a private home with no search warrant required to look for unpasteurized milk in it. The proposed law was still under review at the end of 2009. Hammer, Kate. Dairy desperado keeps the raw milk flowing. Toronto: The Globe and Mail. 29 December 2009.
Canadian milk is more expensive than that in the States and in the UK. Milk prices rise at rates above inflation (between 1990 and 2000, prices rose 37.7%), even though most (nearly 3/4) of Canada’s agricultural subsidies go to dairy. Imported dairy products are subject to high tariffs so that in effect they remain inaccessible to consumers.
Similar supply management systems for dairy were first introduced in Australia, then in the UK, by left-of centre governments, but in both countries the policies have now been abandoned and since then, both countries have seen a great amount of growth both in foodie choice, in decline of prices for consumers, and in initiative by producers resulting in award-winning new cheeses and other dairy products. It was the dairy industry in Australia, in fact, that asked for the regulations to be dismantled.
In Canada, however, it appears as though it would be very hard to dismantle, as many people who now have a vested financial interest in the way things are run vigorously maintain that the current situation is the best for consumers. The protected industries in Canada, it’s been estimated, spend an amount worth around 25% of their annual sales to protect their protection, and to promote the thinking in the consumer mind that this is all for the better. When all else fails, the protected markets and subsidies are often said to be essential to defend cultural identity.
In Canada, it is very hard to get cream with a butterfat content over 35%; one or two (such as Western Dairies, actually in Central Canada — Ontario — despite its name) do make cream with a 40% butterfat content, but still well shy of the rich, 48% cream that is common in the UK.
Imported butter is banned to protect the domestic market. Imported butters are not banned in America, however, so people often smuggle the better butters in. Domestic butter in Canada is only available in the bare minimum butterfat content required by law, 80%. Canadian dairies and government officials say Canadians don’t want a higher fat butter, but those who have tasted the 82 and 84% butters in England and Europe and know that such a thing exists, all come back raving about them.
In the 1960s, Dairy Councils encouraged farmers to switch to Holstein cows, away from Jersey Cows. The Jersey cow is universally considered superior, but Holsteins are more productive. As of 2006, there were only 3 herds of Guernsey cows left in Canada.
Dairies can only buy, by law, Canadian produced milk. Allowing imported milk would disrupt the state controlled Milk Supply Management system. It is also illegal to produce milk for sale without having a quota licence from the government. Each year, the government, through its marketing boards, decides how much milk will be needed for the upcoming year, and then allots every dairy farm operation its quota of that overall total. The amount needed is estimated nationally, then that amount divided amongst the provinces (not in equal amounts), who in turn then allot the amounts to producers. Once the milk is produced, the milk can only be sold back to the government marketing board. To sell it to anyone else is illegal; to use it even yourself to make a dairy product for sale is illegal. You have to buy it back from the government marketing board.
That being said, there is some import of ice cream and yoghurt allowed, mainly from the United States. But in general, Canadian dairy processors don’t have access to milk outside the milk marketing boards, so they can’t shop around for lower prices to stay competitive with producers outside Canada. But if the outside products were allowed in, Canadian dairy processors would go out of business if forced to buy high-priced milk and try to compete with external producers who don’t have to. So, the solution was not to deal with the issue of the cost of the milk supply in Canada, but rather to restrict imports.
The result is that the most profitable farming business in Canada is dairy. As of 2003, dairy farming runs at a profit margin of around 25%, about triple that of normal business margins in Canada. The Consumers’ Association of Canada estimates that Canada’s dairy model costs consumers an extra $100.00 CDN a year more for their liquid drinking milk alone than they would pay if they were paying average world prices for dairy.
There are also trade restrictions on milk between the provinces in Canada.
The favourite flavour of ice cream in Canada remains vanilla, as of 2009. Creighton, Judy. International ice cream flavours on the radar but vanilla still favourite in Canada Saint John, New Brunswick: Telegraph-Journal. 13 May 2009.
Margene Margarine, 1949.
A ban on margarine in Canada was struck down by the courts in 1948. The first margarine to be sold anywhere in Canada was made by Associated Producers and sold in Burnaby, BC, in 1948. The first two margarines to appear on the national market were “Margene”, made by Canada Packers, and “Nucoa”, by Best Foods, both appearing in 1949. Heick, W.H. A Propensity to Protect: Butter, Margarine and the Rise of Urban Culture in Canada. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp 147 – 148. For the history of margarine in Canada, see the history section in the main entry on Margarine.
Canadian cheese, not French, was the basis of the American ban on young raw milk cheeses. Between 1941 and 1944, typhoid fever epidemics in America were linked to imports from Canada of 30 day old raw milk cheddar cheese, but not cheeses that were 48 or 63 day old. Based on this, the province of Alberta stopped the sale of raw milk cheddar cheese unless ripened for 90 days. In 1950, America banned the import of raw milk cheeses unless aged 60 days.
National holidays in Canada include:
- Easter Friday (people who work for the state are also given the Easter Monday off);
- Victoria Day — the Monday closest to 24 May, marking the Queen’s birthday;
- Generally a holiday in August depending on the province;
- Thanksgiving (in October rather than November as is the American one);
- Boxing Day;
- New Year’s Day.
The first of July is also a holiday, known in recent history as “Canada Day”, previously “Dominion Day.”
Lamb is not generally eaten at Easter; North Americans have yet to truly acquire a taste for lamb. Instead, ham is usually served.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are turkey and pumpkin pie, with other desserts also appearing at Christmas such as fruitcake (generally un-iced), mince tarts and shortbread cookies. On Boxing Day, leftovers from the day before are served.
Pancake breakfasts are held in southern-Ontario during maple syrup festival time.
The 24th May weekend, 1 July holiday and the August holiday are generally thought of in most people’s minds as “barbeque” (aka “grilling”) holidays, though more don’t actually get around to it than actually do.
Three meals a day — breakfast, lunch, dinner — are considered the norm, though breakfast for many is a fond idea rather than a daily reality. Breakfast used to be a substantial meal, but now is either nothing, a bowl of cereal or a sweet bun caught on the run. Substantial breakfasts are reserved for Saturday or Sunday morning, either cooked in or eaten out. Breakfasts are inexpensive in restaurants.
Lunch is usually a light meal — anything from sandwiches to an inexpensive restaurant meal or fast food during lunch hour, which is generally sometime between 12 to 1 or 1 to 2.
Dinner is the substantial meal of the day.
In rural regions, “lunch” may be called “dinner”, and “dinner” may be called “supper.”
Meat in Canada
Canadian beef is grain fed. This makes it chewier than American beef. American beef is generally softer, juicier, darker and sweet.
In Ontario, it is illegal to buy pork which has not ultimately been bought through the Ontario Pork Marketing Board. In 2001, Alberta converted its Pork Marketing Board into a true “marketing” organization to promote pork, and abolished its status as the sole legal purveyor of pork in the province.
What Americans call “Canadian Bacon”, Canadians call “back bacon.”
Many bemoan the difficulty of getting good beef hot-dog wieners in Canada.
A marketing board called the “Turkey Farmers of Ontario” controls the production of nearly half the turkeys produced in Canada each year. Its 192 members must purchase quota rights to be allowed to produce. ”Turkey Farmers of Ontario, comprised of 192 quota-holding farmers and with an elected board, controls nearly half of Canada’s annual quota turkey production – 60 million kg a year.” — Webb, Margaret. Agriculture minister will help organic turkey producers. Toronto, Canada: The Toronto Star. 16 October 2009.
Modern Food in Canada
Canada is on Europe’s top-five list of food imposters.
A Canadian company has copyrighted the name “Prosciutto” in Canada The term “Parma Ham” was trademarked in Canada by a meat company called “Maple Leaf” in 1971. As of 2004, the “Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma” had gone to court in Canada three times to fight this — and lost. They own the trademark in America., and Canada allows the sale of knock-off Feta, Romano, Parmesan, etc cheeses. Canada considers these names generic, and small producers and cooperatives in Europe who actually have the rights to the products can’t afford lawsuits against the large Canadian companies that make the knock-offs, particularly in the realm of dairy in which Canada has government support. The real cheeses that aren’t banned from import “for hygiene” reasons have high tariffs placed on them to make it hard to sell them at a price consumers can afford when they hit the store shelves. Though Canada — witness its policy on imported cheese — seems to be obsessed with food hygiene, over 2 million Canadians a year still get food poisoning.
In June 2003, the Canadian government reached a tentative agreement with the European Union. For Canada’s part, by 2013, Canada is to stop allowing alcohol names such as Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Claret, Grappa, Jagertee, Korn, Madeira, Malaga, Marsala, Médoc, Moselle, Ouzo, Pacharan, Port, Rhine, Sauternes and Sherry being used by anyone except the genuine producers in Europe. In return, the EU will protect Canadian Rye Whiskey and Canadian Whiskey as registered names, ensure that wines labelled as coming from the Fraser Valley, Lake Erie North Shore, the Niagara Peninsula, the Okanangan Valley, Pelee Island, the Similkameen Valley, and Vancouver Island actually come from there, and grant Canada favourable concessions on allowing Canadian Icewine into Europe.
The favourite eating out places in Canada are McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, and other doughnut chains. Coffee is ordered in terms of how many sugar packets, and how many creamers you want in it. You can say 1 cream, 2 sugar, or if you want 2 of each, “double-double”, or “triple-triple” even.
A few chefs experiment with fusion food, using Canadian wild ingredients (usually expensive to obtain) and techniques from other places such as Asia, but it remains novelty food, not what people eat. Foods such as arctic char, birch syrup, and fiddleheads are as foreign to Canada’s actual, rather than revisionist, food history as are curry and pad thai — though the curry and pad thai are far more common.
Grocery stores include A&P, Costco, Dominion, IGA, Loblaw’s, Safeway, and Sobey’s. Loblaw’s used to operate in Pennsylvania and upper and western New York State as well from at least 1927 until the fall of 1976.
Myths about food in Canada
Maple syrup is a national food more in word than in observance. Maple syrup is only made in the eastern part of the country. In fact, if it weren’t for a maple leaf now on the flag, people in the western half of the country wouldn’t know what one looked like, as they’re not native to western Canada. Per capita, Canadians consume 6 tablespoons (3 fluid oz / 90 ml) of maple syrup a year, and only 7.5% of the maple syrup produced in Canada is consumed inside the country; 82 % of it is exported, and the remainder, 10.5%, languishes in warehouses owing to lack of demand for it anywhere. In 2004, the Canadian government created and started promoting a “flavour wheel” for maple syrup, based on the concept of a wine wheel, providing 91 terms that can be used in describing maple syrup. Sadly, as of 2006, none of its maple syrup producers seemed to have heard of the idea or the promotion.
Nanaimo Bars are popularly thought to have been “invented” in British Columbia, but they were actually being made in Alberta decades before they arrived in British Columbia.
Canadians are invited to believe that Canadian cheese is the best in the world. It’s not, but Canadians don’t generally have access to other cheeses because of price or availability to compare.
Buttertarts, believed in the popular mind to be uniquely Canadian, are actually Scottish.
In some ways, if you were to draw a map food-wise of North America attempting to plot the food regions of Canada, you’d find that your map wouldn’t follow the 49th parallel. Food-wise you have the west of North America, consisting of California, Oregon, Washington State, and British Columbia; the prairies and plains; the Great Lakes provinces and states and the American heartland; Quebec, and the East, consisting of the Maritime provinces and New England.
Canadian food is generally the same as American food barring regional specialties, but the politics behind it are different. For instance, Canadian food staples — wheat, eggs, chicken, pork, dairy — are produced under a system of supply management by the state. This means the food item in question is governed by price and production controls set through agencies set up by the state.
Canadian rural country is not dotted with small towns just down the road from each other, as it is in America or Europe. Instead there will be hundreds of miles with just very small hamlets, and then a medium-sized town.
- In the west of Canada, carrot pudding is the Christmas pudding, rather than plum pudding;
- British Columbia has perhaps slightly more Asian influence than the rest of Canada;
- British Columbia’s lower mainland has the longest growing season in Canada; Joni Mitchell wrote the famous lyrics “They Paved Paradise” about Vancouver;
- The Ukrainian influence was strong in Manitoba.
Canada does not have a vibrant, regular, lively street food culture.
The street food in Toronto is pretty much limited to hot dogs, called “smog dogs” by the locals. They are served with the basics — ketchup, mustard, nuclear-green coloured relish — or corn relish, onions, and sauerkraut. Here and there, especially in the downtown university area, there are also a few trucks selling chips (aka French Fries), and occasionally in the summer, an ice-cream truck whizzes by at a speed incredibly fast lest anyone should actually be able to flag them down and buy something (the trick is, to flag them down first, get them stopped, and then organize who wants what, and then the money.) And occasionally, you will see a cart selling popcorn and chestnuts. Above all, though, Toronto is in love with that iconic American food, hot dogs.
The law for the province that Toronto is in — Ontario — requires that any street food vendors meet the same standards as restaurants do. Food has to be kept within certain temperature ranges, hot and cold water have to be available for the food prep people to wash their hands, etc. Hot dogs are an exception because they are pre-cooked. In New York, which Toronto often likes to compare itself to, the street food includes falafel, chilli, kebobs, etc. The sad part is, though, at least Toronto has some street food — most other Canadian cities have very little or none at all to speak of.
Smaller towns used to have “chip wagons” or “chip trucks” which, like their counterparts in England, would sell cones or small boxes of thick-cut chips (“French Fries” for Americans.) When done eating the chips, you would drink the salty malt vinegar from the bottom of the cones for a mouth puckering combination of sweet, sour and salty. These chip trucks though are slowly disappearing, being regarded as unhealthy and too “old-fashioned Canadian.”
Permitting food trucks is being trialled in various larger Canadian cities, but policymakers are still balancing the eagerness of food truck operators with the concerns of establish bricks and mortar restaurant operators. Food trucks are in abundance, however, at special events outside the downtown cores.
Vegetables in Canada
The small, island province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) is the largest producer of potatoes in Canada, though the province of Manitoba is second and catching up fast. In Canada, there is no regulation saying the actual variety of potato being sold in grocery stores has to be declared to consumers. This has caused the problem that consumers just see all potatoes as a generic commodity: they have no reason to think that it’s worth paying more for one producer’s potatoes over another. As of 2003, several grocery stores, including Dominion and A&P, started experimenting with not selling potatoes as all purpose. Instead, they separated loose potatoes into bins according to what they are best for, as they have been sold for some time in the UK. Potatoes for the offering are hand-selected, double-washed before sale and kept at optimal storage temperatures even during transport. This selling approach allows producers to have their potatoes marketed more than as just commodity items. Bulk potatoes sell (as of 2003) for $0.99 to $1.29 CDN per pound (450 g); $ 1.29 is at the high end of the range of what a consumer will pay, but the marketing technique could mean the edge in a consumer picking one producer’s potatoes over another.
In Canada people giving over portions of their front yards or back gardens to vegetable gardens in urban areas is seen as a bit odd, or a sign of poverty. No matter how hard up a family is, it’s more the done thing to buy all the vegetables you need, in order to demonstrate that you can afford to.
Almost all garlic in Canada sold in grocery stores is imported from America.
Wheat in Canada
Canadians are often encouraged to see themselves as the “breadbasket of the world”, but they are not in fact the world’s leading producer of wheat. From 1999 to 2004, Canada produced only 23 million tonnes of wheat, while America produced more than double that in the same period, 57 tonnes. Depending on the year, Australia and Canada swap places between second and third place for largest wheat producer.
Tim Horton’s Pie Tin, circa 1960s
© Denzil Green
Of the 23 million tonnes Canada produced, approximately 8 million were consumed in the country, and 15 million exported, primarily to the EU and Japan.
The Canadian Wheat Board has control over wheat and barley grown between British Columbia and Ontario. Wheat grain east of Ontario is exempt from their control. The Board was first established as voluntary in 1935 for farmers by the Conservative government; in 1943 a Liberal government made it compulsory.
Wheat farmers are compelled to pool all their product and sell it to the wheat board. The theory is that by there being a single seller and eliminating competition, the Board can get a better price overall. Even farmers who wish to grind their own wheat to sell as flour have to first sell it to the Board and then buy it back at marked-up prices — even if the grain never actually leaves their farmyard. Grinding your own wheat into flour to sell without going through the Board lands farmers in jail.
Even though occasionally data is produced to show that the Board garnered a higher price for farmers, critics say it’s far from certain that any of the extra money they gained for farmers actually reaches the farmers. They say this may be because the Board has a large number of bureaucrats to pay, as well as high liabilities in terms of “non performing” loans the Board extended to foreign countries in the form of credit that will probably never get paid back.
The Wheat Board has great powers. It is exempt from Freedom of Information legislation, and doesn’t have to report to Parliament. Newspapers have carried stories of early morning helicopter raid teams descending onto farms suspected of selling wheat to anyone other than the Board. Allegedly, “farmers suspected of selling their grain independently [have] ended up face down in the dirt” with their wrists bound, then strip searched and imprisoned. Gunter, Lorne. The Wheat Board Offends Freedom. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: National Post. 1 September 2004.
Despite the issues, Canadian wheat growers still manage to turn out wheat that is milled into the top flour in the world, bar none. Canadian flour is unsurpassed for quality on almost every level and test.
Canadian Food Achievements
- All-Purpose Flour: Canadian Flour is the first and still the greatest Canadian success story. Canadian wheat makes the finest Flour in the world, bar none. Despite everything that is said about bread vs cake vs pastry flour, somehow magically Canadian all-purpose flour basically handles all those tasks effortlessly. A Canadian housewife would have to be pretty bored with her lot in life to experiment with cake or bread flour — if you say flour in Canada, it means all-purpose, end of story.
- Magic Baking Powder, the North American standard, was created in Toronto in 1897 by the E. W. Gillett Company.
Canadian food imports by broad categories
2019 figures, US dollars
- Beverages, spirits and vinegar ($4.97B)
- Edible fruits, nuts, peel of citrus fruit, melons ($4.80B)
- Edible vegetables and certain roots and tubers ($3.37B)
- Cereal, flour, starch, milk preparations and products ($3.17B)
- Vegetable, fruit, nut food preparations ($2.36B)
- Fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatics invertebrates ($2.33B)
- Meat and edible meat offal ($1.84B)
- Coffee, tea, mate and spices ($1.58B)
- Cocoa and cocoa preparations ($1.56B)
- Meat, fish and seafood preparations ($1.47B)
- Sugars and sugar confectionery ($1.05B)
- Cereals ($1.03B)
- Oil seed, oleagic fruits, grain, seed, fruits ($1.02B)
- Albuminoids, modified starches, glues, enzymes ($963.93M)
- Animal, vegetable fats and oils, cleavage products ($921.44M)
- Dairy products, eggs, honey, edible products ($672.24M)
- Milling products, malt, starches, inlin, wheat gluten ($298.28M)
Source: Canada Imports by Category, based on UN COMTRADE database. Trading Economics. Accessed June 2020 at https://tradingeconomics.com/canada/imports-by-category
1913 – The Five Roses Cook Book is published by the Lake of the Woods Milling Company in Montreal. A second edition of the book was done, and together the two editions sold 650,000 copies — at a time when the population of the country was just 7.6 million. Nuttall-Smith, Chris. “So we’ve reached peak foodism. Don’t panic.” Toronto: The Globe and Mail. 28 August 2013. Page L2.
1955 – Kraft Cracker Barrel Cheddar cheese arrives in Canada, a year after it was introduced into America. In the same year, Kraft processed cheese slices were also introduced into Canada.
The transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railways was noted, up until the 1960s, for the quality of its food and service
Prohibition in Canada
One of the strongest social reform groups in Canadian history, though now forgotten and replaced by others, was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. An organized force across the Dominion, they felt that alcohol abuse was at the bottom of the social problems in Canada
Most of the crusaders were middle-class Canadians who felt that the lower classes needed help in governing their own vices — provided of course that those weren’t vices that the middle-class also held dear. Some feel that it might also have held the benefit of creating a “stable, disciplined workforce” better able to serve the needs of the middle-classes.
Though American prohibition (1920 to 1933) gained more prominence, prohibition actually started earlier in Canada, possibly because Temperance forces linked Prohibition to supporting the war effort (Canada entered the First World War in 1914; 3 years before America did). Sober men were better fighters, and grain was needed to feed soldiers on the front, not to make drink for people at home. Campaigners seem to have dodged the topic of men at the front having more than the odd drink.
Prohibition started in the province of Alberta on 1 July 1916, outlawing the sale and purchase, though not the manufacture, nor the transport of alcohol into and out of the province. In 1918, the Alberta Provincial Police force (replaced in 1932 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) was created in large part to help enforce the law when it was tightened to include the manufacture and import of alcohol. Prohibition lasted in Alberta for 7 years, ending in 1923.
- Saskatchewan (1 July 1915 to 16 July 1924)
- Prince Edward Island (1901 to 1948)
- Manitoba (February 1916 to 1924)
- Nova Scotia (1916 to 1929)
- New Brunswick (1917 to 1927)
- Ontario (1915 to 1926). (Alcohol less than 2% remained legal; alcohol for export could still be made). At the end of prohibition in Ontario, 15 out of 64 breweries remained in business, one of them called “Labatt”.
During prohibition in Canada, some police officers, such as Chief Walter P. Johnson of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, ended up on the payroll of those involved in illegal alcohol sales.
Prohibition even remained in effect in an area called “The Junction” of Toronto, Canada until 1997, in the towns of Cambridge, Maitland and Tidnish in Nova Scotia until June 2005, and in Manitoba towns such as Hanover and Stanley until 2006.
In Ontario, you were not allowed to have a glass of wine with your meal at restaurants until 1967. After that you could have a drink at a restaurant with a meal between noon and 3 pm, and 5 and 9:30 pm.
In Ontario, you could not buy any alcohol, even a bottle of wine, on a Sunday until the state-owned alcohol stores started Sunday sales on 7 December 1997.
British Columbia was the first province to start state-owned alcohol sales in October 1920.
At times, the state sale of alcohol in Canada seems to involve a bureaucracy that would have impressed Moscow civil servants in the Soviet Union; at other times, it seems incredibly provincial and Methodist. In January 2006, when a Toronto restaurant named “Le Sélect Bistro” with a wine cellar of 12,000 bottles moved from one location to another 4 or 5 blocks (less than 500 metres) away, it was told by the government it had to get a new liquor licence for the new location, which it did. As soon as it did, it was told it had to sell every single bottle of wine back to the state-owned alcohol stores, then buy it back from them under the new licence.
To make matters worse, the state refused to have anything to do with 1/4 of the wine stock, as it was no longer in their current catalogues (bottles that had been aging in the wine cellar for up to 30 years), and the restaurant didn’t have receipts proving that it had been bought from the state in the first place back in 1977 (the restaurant had kept paperwork for 7 years as required by tax law, then destroyed it.) To boot, it is illegal to sell alcohol in the province where the restaurant is, Ontario, if it hasn’t been purchased from the state. As a result, the restaurant was put in a position that if they sold a single bottle from their wine cellar in their new location, it would be an illegal sale and the full force of the law would have been thrown at them. In the end, they managed to prove through old catalogues from the state owned liquor store chain that the state had indeed carried the bottles at one time, and the restaurateurs were able to unseal their wine cellar. The owners at the end offered the state officials a glass of wine, but the officials declined.
In June 2012, a federal law banning the interprovincial transport of wine was removed from the books. Still in place were separate provincial levels regulating how much wine and other alcohol consumers were allowed to personally import from other provinces.
Appliances in Canada
Canadians got major electrical appliances later than Americans did. While the Americans experienced a revolution in the reduction of kitchen and other household work in the 1940s and 1950s, the cost of those goods to Canadians remained prohibitive to most once they crossed the border owing to high Canadian import tariffs in place to protect small Canadian manufacturers such as Beatty of Fergus, Ontario.
The first mass brands in Canada were Frigidaire, General Electric (GE), Kelvinator, Philco, and Westinghouse. As demand for appliances grew amongst Canadians wanting to catch up with their American neighbours, it became feasible for the manufacturers to set up plants in Canada, thus avoiding the artificial costs associated with the import tariffs imposed by the Canadian government and making the products affordable for everyday Canadians.
- by 1976, 99% of Canadian households owned a refrigerator
- by 1986, 55% of Canadian households had a freezer (separate from the refrigerator)
- by 1979, 26% of Canadians households had a dishwasher (compared to 43% in America). By 1986, it was 38% of households.
- by 1982, 10% of Canadian households had a microwave (compared to 27% in America and 31% in Japan). By 1986, the figure was 44% in Canada, compared to 60% in America.
Dairy History in Canada
In 1918, the province of Ontario had nearly 900 cheese factories: “Canadian dairymen should feel justly proud of the position they hold today in the markets of Great Britain. Not only is Canada the largest exporter of cheese but she also holds the record as to quality. Not so many years ago our cousins to the south had the inside track in the British market, and as they had very little competition, they paid more attention to quantity than quality, with the very natural result that an opportunity was given for Canadian dairymen to try and capture that market. How well they succeeded need not be dwelt on here. It is sufficient to say that Canadian cheese — one of our largest manufactured products and exports — is competing successfully in the markets of the world against all comers. The reason for this is not hard to find, it is simply that the quality of the goods appeal to that greatest of all food value experts, Britain”. James W. Mcleod, M.P.P. in Stiles, Harlow M. Official History of the Cornwall Cheese and Butter Board. Cornwall, Ontario: Cornwall Cheese and Butter Board. 1919, p22.
“It is only a little over fifty years since the manufacture of cheese was undertaken in this Province, and yet to-day it has attained such proportions that it is a big factor in the economic and national life of the country. Last year, the value of the dairy output of Canada was estimated at approximately two hundred million dollars, and of this upwards of half is to the credit of the good old Province of Ontario. It is well to remember that this grand result, in the aggregate, was achieved only by the multiplication of small units such as represented by the Cornwall Cheese and Butter Board….I would be sorry to see any system adopted which would not give adequate rewards for energy, industry, thrift and ability, which have been the cardinal, if old-fashioned, virtues upon which success has been founded in the past.” — Hon. George S. Henry, Minister Of Agriculture, Ontario in Stiles, Harlow M. Official History of the Cornwall Cheese and Butter Board. Cornwall, Ontario: Cornwall Cheese and Butter Board. 1919, p25-26.
Early in the history of the country, government intervention in dairy was limited to financial support for infrastructure such as iced cars on railways to carry butter (1895), funding for cheese curing rooms (1902), dairy herd testing programmes (1902) and grading of dairy products for export (1932). Direct subsidies began in 1935 during the depression for cheese and butter production. During the war years, the depth and breadth of subsidies were increased, as well as the introduction of limits on imports. By the mid-1960s, a full Canadian Dairy Commission was created.
Though overall imports of ice cream and yoghurt account for less than 1/2 percent of the market in Canada, the government at one point tried to shut them down, too. The WTO (World Trade Organization), however, disallowed their efforts on 5 December 1989, decision (L/6568 – 36S/68), basically saying that while it wasn’t all that fond of Canada’s system in the first place, such imports couldn’t be banned because they didn’t seem to undermine in any significant way Canada’s state managed system. “Against this background and in the absence of an imminent threat to the Canadian dairy system, the Panel found that the criterion of ‘necessary’ to the operation of the governmental restrictions could not be met.”
In 1997, little New Zealand took on Canada by lodging a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) that a separate support scheme for Canadian dairy producers, which subsidized their exports, was creating unfair competition in world markets, while at the same time denying other people access to Canadian markets. The Americans agreed and joined New Zealand in the complaint. The WTO agreed with New Zealand and America in May 1999, and struck down an appeal by Canada in December 1999. In December 2002, the WTO agreed with New Zealand that a replacement scheme put in place by Canada provided the same subsidies under a different name. Finally, in May 2003 Canada agreed to dismantle those illegal subsidies as well.
Homogenized milk first went on sale in Canada on 8 April 1927. It was offered by the Laurentian Dairy of Ottawa, Ontario, 13 years after it first appeared in America. Trout, G.M. Official Acceptance of Homogenized Milk in the United States. Department of Food Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing. Journal of Dairy Science Vol. 46 No. 4 342-345. 1963.
Widespread compulsory pasteurization of milk was first introduced in Canada in the province of Ontario in 1938. Previously, only some cities in Ontario (and across Canada) had made it mandatory in those cities. Reputedly, compulsory pasteurization was championed by the provincial Premier at the time, Mitchell Hepburn, who saw children in hospital because they had contracted diseases such as tuberculosis from being given unpasteurized milk to drink. Leal, Jeff. MP. Legislative Assembly of Ontario. 7 December 2006. Retrieved November 2007 from http://www.ontla.on.ca/house-proceedings/transcripts/files_html/2006-12-07_L133.htm The campaign for it had been led by a Women’s Institute leader, Adelaide Hoodless of Hamilton, Ontario, who had lost an infant in 1896 to unpasteurized milk. McQuigge, Murray. 1 December 2006. Open letter to Ontario Premier. Retrieved November 2007 http://archives.foodsafety.ksu.edu/fsnet/2006/12-2006/fsnet_dec_1-2.htm#story5  “This has resulted from the now well known Provincial legislation in 1938, by which milk pasteurization was made compulsory throughout the Province of Ontario. Up to that time, the enforcement of pasteurization had been left largely in the hands of local municipalities……a few cities of the Dominion have compulsory pasteurization. In the Province of Quebec St. Lambert has the proud distinction of being the first municipality in the province to introduce it. Montreal has it, with a small percentage of special raw milk allowed…” — The Canadian Medical Association Journal. Editorial Comments: “Pasteurization of Milk in Canada”, signed H.E.M. December 1941, page 552.
Other provinces followed in legislating compulsory pasteurization of milk within those provinces. Finally, in 1991, it was taken under a nationwide umbrella through an amendment, called the “Milk Act”, to the Federal Food and Drug Act.
Downtown Toronto, particularly the old Jewish area of Spadina, used to have delicatessens that locals still wax poetic over. Until the relatively recent advent of a plethora of ethnic restaurants, which began in the early 1980s, deli food was perhaps the only commercially prepared food worth waxing poetic over — that and having a good, as in really good, local fish and chip shop.
Toronto was a pastrami town, like New York and Chicago. Old-timers still close their eyes talking about the quality of the pastrami Toronto had.
The great delis were Becker’s, Moe Pancer’s, Shopsy’s, and The Bagel, though many felt that the Holy Trinity was Switzer’s, Famous Deli and The Bagel. And fans were divided between the corned beef at Shopsy’s versus Switzer’s.
Switzer’s was at 320 Spadina in a narrow three-storey building with a sign at the very top that said “Party catering specialists”. It was known for its corned beef on rye with mustard, kosher dills, knishes, kishka with gravy, cream soda and Vernor’s ginger ale.
The waitresses at The Bagel were famous for being brusque; if you said what they’d brought you wasn’t what you’d ordered, they’d sit down and eat it themselves. Speculation circulated about when the floor had last been washed, and about their beef-vegetable soup, claiming that it was only ever emptied out fully twice a year, at Pesach and Rosh Hashanah.
Eventually, all the delis closed up downtown and moved far, far north to the suburbs, at least an hour’s drive.
Shopsy’s was started in 1921 by Harry and Jenny Shopsowitz at the corner of Spadina and Dundas, near the Anshei Minsk synagogue. They tried to modernize and make it as a chain, on their own at first. Eventually, they sold out to Lever Brothers, who made them into a chain and a brand.
Toronto’s deli heritage is now reduced to corporate chains such as Druxy’s, Shopsy’s or the Pickle Barrel.
Bick’s Pickles, which to many Canadians now is how pickles are supposed to taste, was established in 1951 by Walter and George Bick.
Metric Kitchen Measurements
The metric implementation regarding food stuffs in Canada during the 1970s was horrendously botched by the authorities, who established the bizarre precedent of liquid metric measurements for dry and solid ingredients, such as 150 ml celery — the equivalent of advising someone to liquidize some celery stalks, then measure out 4 fluid ounces for a salad recipe.
Agriculture Canada gave this weak defence back in 1980: “Many people ask why we aren’t weighing recipe ingredients, as Europeans [Ed: the rest of the world] do. Scales are expensive and can be difficult to keep adjusted. And since we have always measured mainly by volume in the kitchen, we are continuing to do so.” Agriculture Canada, Food Advisory Division. Kitchen Metrics. Publication 1702. 1980.
Literature & Lore
“Touch not the foaming, tempting glass,
Nor look upon the wine!
A serpent vile is hid within
The liquid of the vine.
Its ruddy gleam invites you all
To taste the sparkling bowl,
And hides beneath the poison fangs
Which smite into your soul.
Touch not nor taste the seething ill,
Flee from the tempting foe;
Let not its hue profane your lips,
‘Twill bring you bitter woe.”
— Hymn sung at meetings of the Canadian Young Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
“That’s when you really start to appreciate bowls of soup — getting a bowl of soup during the day, a hot bowl of soup, where I was homeless in Toronto, where it’s 40 below zero in the winter time, where you get a bowl of soup, that’s like God.” — Eric Sweig, Native American actor.
Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, described Canadian food as “plumb tasteless.” CBC Radio Commentator, James Bannerman (aka John McNaught), agreed with the Colonel. — Taylor, Joe & McNeil, Bill. Assignment Programme on CBC Radio. 16 July 1957. Retrieved November 2009 from http://archives.cbc.ca/lifestyle/food/clips/8350/
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. A strong Partnership: The Canada–United States Wheat Trade. 26 January 2006. Retrieved April 2007 from: http://www.agr.gc.ca/itpd-dpci/english/country/Wheat_brochure-2004_e.htm
Austen, Ian. The Sleepy Subject of Canada’s Grain Exports Perks Up. New York Times. 1 January 2007.
Bain, Jennifer. The saviour of syrup. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Toronto Star. 22 March 2006.
Beppi, Crosariol. Grape trumps grain: Statscan. Wine sales pass spirits for the first time. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Globe and Mail. 14 September 2006.
Canada Heirloom Series, Volume III: Allegiance: The Ontario Story. Mississauga, Ontario: Heirloom Publishing Inc., 1991.
Canada – Import Restrictions On Ice Cream And Yoghurt. Report of the Panel adopted at the Forty-fifth Session of the CONTRACTING PARTIES on 5 December 1989. World Trade Organization. (L/6568 – 36S/68).
Canadian Press. Canadian shocker: Beer is booze of choice. Toronto Star. Toronto, Canada. 8 September 2005.
CBC News. “Bad meat not only source of food poisoning”. 30 Sept 2003. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2003/09/30/food_microbes020930 in February 2005.
CBC News Online. “Canada’s conflicted relationship with margarine”. 10 May 2004. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/food/margarine.html in July 2004.
CBC News. Manitoba’s last ‘dry’ towns to vote on booze bans. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2006/09/18/dry-towns.html on 19 September 2006.
Consumers’ Association of Canada. Press Release — Canadian Dairy Industry Milking Consumers. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. 11 December 2003.
Cuthbert, Pamela. It ain’t easy being single-herd cheesy. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Globe and Mail. 29 July 2006.
Crookell, Harold. Electrical Appliances Industry (in Canada). In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto, Ontario: Historical Foundation of Canada. 2006.
Depalma, Anthony. On Canada’s Prairie, a Farmers’ Rebellion Flares. New York Times. 3 January 1997.
Dupré, Ruth. The Prohibition of Alcohol in the Anglo-Saxon World: Why in the U.S. and not in Canada, Australia or New Zealand? Paper presented at the 14th World Congress of the International Economic History Association, Helsinki, Finland, 21 – 25 August 2006.
Earl, Paul. Australia’s Dairy Reforms – Lessons for Canada. Policy Series No. 16. Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. March 2003.
Hutsul, Christopher. Le Sélect Bistro’s move sparks two-year tangle with bureaucracy. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Toronto Star. 25 January 2006.
Leong, Melissa. Slaves to the hot dog. Toronto Star. Toronto, Canada. 25 July 2005.
Mallet, Gina. A wee bit o’ butter for my bread. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: National Post. Saturday, 25 October 2003.
PRI Project: North American Linkages. The Emergence of Cross-Border Regions Between Canada and the United States. Roundtables Synthesis Report. Ottawa, Canada: Government of Canada. May 2006.
Puzic, Sonja. Red tape leaves prized wine high and dry. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Globe and Mail. 25 January 2006. Page A15.
Sampson, Susan. A potato is never just a spud. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Toronto Star. 19 November 2003.
Shay, Andy. Cheese in NYC. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Web page dated March 2005. Retrieved November 2005 from http://gremolata.com/andyshay06.htm.
Stiles, Harlow M.. Official History of the Cornwall Cheese and Butter Board. Cornwall, Ontario: Cornwall Cheese and Butter Board. 1919.
|↑1||Hammer, Kate. Dairy desperado keeps the raw milk flowing. Toronto: The Globe and Mail. 29 December 2009.|
|↑2||Creighton, Judy. International ice cream flavours on the radar but vanilla still favourite in Canada Saint John, New Brunswick: Telegraph-Journal. 13 May 2009.|
|↑3||Heick, W.H. A Propensity to Protect: Butter, Margarine and the Rise of Urban Culture in Canada. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp 147 – 148.|
|↑4||Driver, Elizabeth. A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press. 2008. Page 889.|
|↑5||”Turkey Farmers of Ontario, comprised of 192 quota-holding farmers and with an elected board, controls nearly half of Canada’s annual quota turkey production – 60 million kg a year.” — Webb, Margaret. Agriculture minister will help organic turkey producers. Toronto, Canada: The Toronto Star. 16 October 2009.|
|↑6||The term “Parma Ham” was trademarked in Canada by a meat company called “Maple Leaf” in 1971. As of 2004, the “Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma” had gone to court in Canada three times to fight this — and lost. They own the trademark in America.|
|↑7||Gunter, Lorne. The Wheat Board Offends Freedom. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: National Post. 1 September 2004.|
|↑8||Nuttall-Smith, Chris. “So we’ve reached peak foodism. Don’t panic.” Toronto: The Globe and Mail. 28 August 2013. Page L2.|
|↑9||Trout, G.M. Official Acceptance of Homogenized Milk in the United States. Department of Food Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing. Journal of Dairy Science Vol. 46 No. 4 342-345. 1963.|
|↑10||Leal, Jeff. MP. Legislative Assembly of Ontario. 7 December 2006. Retrieved November 2007 from http://www.ontla.on.ca/house-proceedings/transcripts/files_html/2006-12-07_L133.htm|
|↑11||McQuigge, Murray. 1 December 2006. Open letter to Ontario Premier. Retrieved November 2007 http://archives.foodsafety.ksu.edu/fsnet/2006/12-2006/fsnet_dec_1-2.htm#story5|
|↑12||“This has resulted from the now well known Provincial legislation in 1938, by which milk pasteurization was made compulsory throughout the Province of Ontario. Up to that time, the enforcement of pasteurization had been left largely in the hands of local municipalities……a few cities of the Dominion have compulsory pasteurization. In the Province of Quebec St. Lambert has the proud distinction of being the first municipality in the province to introduce it. Montreal has it, with a small percentage of special raw milk allowed…” — The Canadian Medical Association Journal. Editorial Comments: “Pasteurization of Milk in Canada”, signed H.E.M. December 1941, page 552.|
|↑13||Agriculture Canada, Food Advisory Division. Kitchen Metrics. Publication 1702. 1980.|