This summer I was finally able to visit a museum that I have always wanted to see – The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For those who have never heard of Pier 21, it was the Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island in New York. More than one million immigrants came to Canada through Pier 21 from 1928 – 1971. Like the US, Canada’s history has been shaped by immigrants. While my ancestors didn’t come through Halifax, I know of people who did. It was fascinating to see the displays and read many of the accounts from the people who passed through.
One thing that always interests me about history is what people ate. I find that through food, we can experience the past in a small way. One of the exhibits had a menu from a 1950s ship from England. I have to say, it didn’t sound very appetizing. A lot of boiled meat and potatoes. But it got me wondering, what did people eat on their way to a new life?
The answer to that depends on what ticket you held. Most ships had at least two, maybe three, different ‘classes’ – something most people are aware of due to the famous history (and movie) of the Titanic. So I did some digging.
I expected the third class, or steerage, to have horrible food, but the menus were actually appetizing. Dinner consisted of bread, roast beef, corn, boiled potatoes and plum pudding – a fairly standard Sunday night dinner for the working class in England. For many of the third class passengers that came from modest or even poor backgrounds the food that was offered, especially on the Titanic, would have been quite a treat.
The second class passengers dinned much the way most people today would at Thanksgiving (minus the deep-fried turkey). Lamb and mint sauce, roast turkey and cranberry sauce, peas, turnips and even ice cream were on the menu.
Of course the very best meals went to the highest paying travelers – the first class. Oysters, duck, lobster, capon, shrimp, new potatoes, salad and pineapple royale (whatever that is) all made it onto the the tables of the rich and famous of the day.
Regardless of which ticket you held, the dinning was infinitely better traveling to Canada in the 1900s then it is today, when you are lucky if you get a bag of peanuts.