The 'How' of Food

“We had our kitchen redone…we thought about what we need to put in there, so that a cupboard space does reflect what I need to go in there…”
Beverley Ball, Canadian, June 2015


“When I made dough, cakes, I would always make them by hand most of the time, with wooden spoons, maybe because I’m old fashioned. Lately, I started using a mixer…”

Iva Majer, Slovenian Canadian, June 2015

The Heat Source | Keeping Food Cool | The Kitchen | Small Appliances and Cookware

| Table Settings | War Time Table Setting | On The Train


Have you had different kitchens over the years, with different designs and populated with different tools? The work that happens in kitchens may remain constant but kitchens change.

There are only so many ways to prepare and cook different ingredients. Foods can be baked, roasted, fried and boiled, to name just a few processes.

But the spaces in which these processes occur have changed a lot over time. For their part, some tools look similar to what cooks have used for centuries. Others have been modified. Still others are completely new.

As the personal, social, economic, technological and cultural context changed, kitchens and kitchen equipment changed, too.

The Heat Source

Today, we debate the merits of electric versus gas stoves. These are relatively recent innovations, though. The earliest Londoners cooked over an open hearth. Later, as technology evolved, they adopted stoves with different heat sources.


The Hearth Stone
In this small engraving of a painting by W. H. Willcox, you see an open hearth equipped for cooking:

  • “S” hooks hang at the back of the fireplace, the middle one supporting a footed kettle;
  • Andirons await logs for burning;
  • Another footed kettle sits in the hearth on the left hand side of the fireplace;
  • Log tongs lean against the inside right hand side of the hearth next to a long-handled frying pan.

Engraving, Gift of Mary Dale, 1988.


Happy Thought Stove
Stoves were central areas of old homes, they provided heat, cooked food, heated water and were even used as garbage disposals. This cast iron stove was made in 1909 by the Buck Co. in Brantford. It was originally wood burning but was converted to natural gas. It was still in use by Nora Edison Coombe, first cousin to Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the first commercially viable electric lightbulb. Coombe was the last living Edison in Vienna and died in the 1980s.
Photo courtesy of the Edison Museum of Vienna, Ontario (this museum is currently closed to the public)


McClary’s Manufacturing Company
This sign advertises the sale of McClary stoves and ranges. In 1847, Oliver McClary (1816-1902) opened a small business in London. Joined by his brother John (1829-1921) in 1852, the McClary Manufacturing Company grew to produce stoves, enamelware and agricultural implements, among other items. By 1884, the Company sold its products across Canada and overseas. In 1927, McClary’s merged with five other companies, becoming General Steel Wares.
Sign, Gift of Dr. J. Malcolm Smith, London, Ontario, 1999.

McClary’s Oil Stove
This 1920s Florence Automatic Blue Flame oil stove offered cooks some advantages over wood and coal stoves. It did not require frequent refuelling. It was easier to light and to control temperature. It was more efficient. It was sold in parts: the burners, the oven and the “mantle,” or the back shelf compartment, were sold separately. As this advertisement suggests, who wouldn’t prefer a cool kitchen on a hot summer day?
Stove, Collection of Museum London, 2015.

A Stove in Harvest Gold
McClary/GSW (General Steel Wares) manufactured this Harvest Gold electric stove rom the late 1960s until the London factory closed in the 1970s. Appliances have ranged in colour over the years, dictated by a combination of materials and fashion. Harvest Gold replaced some of the pastels popular in the 1950s. In its turn, it was replaced by a return to white in the 1980s.
Stove, Collection of Museum London, 2007.


Keeping Food Cool


This is an ice saw (above) and a pair of tongs for carrying blocks of ice, key tools in the natural ice industry. In the 19th and part of the 20th centuries, this industry employed hundreds of men. They harvested, stored and distributed thousands of tons of ice. Sold to businesses and private citizens alike, the ice allowed the short term storage of perishable foods.
Saw, Eldon House, London, Ontario, 1977.
Tongs, Gift of Mr. D. S. Cruthers, 1963.


Delivering Ice
In this image, delivery men with London’s Crystal Lake Ice company are at work. The man in the truck bed is using a pair of ice tongs.
Hines’ Studio Collection, Western Archives, Western University, London, Canada.


Ice Pick
This is an ice pick used by Londoner Mrs. Dorothy Westhead to break up ice for use in her Ice King ice box (right). The London Ice and Coal Company distributed the pick to help advertise its product.
Ice Pick, Gift of Mrs. Dorothy Westhead, London, Ontario, 1980.


Ice King Ice Box
This is an Ice King ice box (right), a non-mechanical means of keeping perishable foods fresh. Ice in the top compartment chilled air that circulated into the lower storage area where the food was placed. In 1941, 26 per cent of Canadian homes used ice boxes like this.
Ice Box, Gift of Mrs. Dorothy Westhead, London, Ontario, 1980.


General Electric Refrigerator
This is a circa 1935 “Monitor Top” GE refrigerator (right). Named for the gun turret on the Civil War era American warship the USS Monitor, its motor is on top of the unit. The first automatic refrigerators entered the North American market in 1918. Only 21 per cent of Canadian households owned an electric refrigerator in 1941.
Refrigerator, Gift of Mr. Mervyn Elliott, 2004.

A Well-Stocked Fridge
Here you see a loaded circa 1950s Fairbanks Morse Gibson Refrigerator. Manufacturers trumpeted the benefits of their product. Refrigerators like this contributed to the health, happiness and convenience of families. As well, they saved money by preventing food spoilage and allowing larger purchases of food at reduced prices.
Photograph, Courtesy of Alan Gleason, Sarnia, Ontario, 2004.



The Kitchen

Family Studies Room at Woodstock Collegiate Institute High School from the 1940s. (Above and below)

Photographs courtesy of County of Oxford Archives, (COA88  Woodstock Collegiate Institute School Records fonds).

The Kitchen, 1973
On June 19, 1973, the St. Thomas Times-Journal published this image of a German-designed kitchen. Featuring an island, complete with sink and five hotplates, it was supposed to save time and effort. The staged image says it worked for this mother. Thanks to her efficient kitchen, she has time to play with her little daughter.
Courtesy of Elgin County Archives.


The Kitchen, 1989
This 1989 photograph shows a kitchen in the newly-opened Rodney Kiwanis Seniors’ Apartment Building, in Rodney, Ontario. Tiny but functional, it has cabinets, a double sink, a stove with range hood and enough counter space for a blender. An electric hand mixer hangs off the back of the stove.
Courtesy of Elgin County Archives.



Small Appliances and Cookware


Bake Table with Kitchen Utensils

Bake tables were common because old houses did not have cupboards. The top is used as a cutting board while bottom doors are sloped to hold ingredients like flour or sugar. The doors are lined with tin so mice couldn’t chew through. On top are several different kitchen utensils.

Photo courtesy of the Edison Museum of Vienna, Ontario (this museum is currently closed to the public)



Weigh Scale
This Burrow, Stewart & Milne scale belonged to Londoner Mary L. Green (1918-1999). Following the British practice, Canadians like Mary weighed in pounds and ounces. Some also used the American method of measuring in cups.
Scale, Gift of Mrs. Mary L. Green, London, Ontario, 1988.


Toastess Sandwich Iron
Sandwich irons or presses like this were first sold in the 1920s. This one dates from the 1950s and reflects the streamlined design popular after the Second World War (1939-1945).
Toastess Sandwich Iron, Gift of Ms. Marion Row, 2010.


Waring Blender
This blender, named after Fred Waring, its promoter and a popular singer and bandleader, was introduced in 1937. Although other manufacturers had made blenders before, this one was better. Its lid sealed properly.
Blender, Collection of Museum London, 2011.


Medalta Mixing Bowl
This Medalta mixing bowl dates from the 1930s. The factory, established in 1912, was named for its location in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Workers used the rich clay deposits in the area to manufacture a wide range of practical and decorative objects for the home.
Bowl, Gift of Judith and Wilson Rodger, London, Ontario, 2014.


“It will not allow you to think you are slaving at all.”
The McClary Manufacturing Company marketed its Bonny Blue enamelware, including pieces like this pitcher, as utensils that were “just as serviceable as pretty.” To make the “most delightful kitchen imaginable,” this pamphlet urged women to make their Bonny Blue set the keynote of a whole new kitchen colour scheme.
Pitcher, Collection of Museum London, purchased at Gardner Auction Galleries, January 2012.


Toaster Evolution
The long-handled fork toasted bread over an open fire.


The pyramid-shaped toaster toasted bread over an open fire but also a wood or gas stove. It could also toast more than one slice at once.


The 1920s Star electric toaster allowed the user to turn the knobs to flip slices of bread.


The late 1920s one slice Waters-Genter toaster was the first pop up toaster that could brown bread on both sides at once.
Fork, Collection of Museum London, 1974.
Pyramid Toaster, Collection of Museum London, 1977.
Star Electric Toaster, Gift of Mr. Don James, 1976.
Waters-Genter Toaster, Gift of Mrs. Dorothy Westhead, London, Ontario, 1980.


This food mill would have been used to make apple or tomato sauce. It might also have been used to make jellies.
Food Mill, Collection of Museum London, 1983.


Coffee Percolator
This is a percolator. Benjamin Thompson, later Count Rumford, invented the first coffee percolator between 1810 and 1814. Opposed to alcohol and disliking tea, Thompson promoted the drinking of coffee for its stimulating effects.
Percolator, Gift of Miss Anne Dunston, London, Ontario, 1974.


Electric Frying Pan
This is an electric frying pan, popular from the 1950s. Manufacturers promised women better results than could be achieved with conventional frying pans. The big difference? The heat could be more precisely regulated than with a stove top.  
Electric Frying Pan, Gift of Judith and Wilson Rodger, London, Ontario, 2015.


Table settings

Dining Table

This dining table belonged to Mary Ann Edison, Nora Edison Coombe’s mother. Coombe was first cousin to Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the first commercially viable electric lightbulb and she was the last living Edison in Vienna. She died in the 1980s. The china comes from England and is set in an afternoon mat. The knives belonged to Mary Ann’s mother, are made of real silver and date back to 1835.

Photo courtesy of the Edison Museum of Vienna, Ontario (this museum is currently closed to the public)



War Time Table Setting



In the trenches

Meat Can, Ca. 1914-1918, Aluminum, steel, Manufactured by Landers, Flary & Clark (U.S.) RCRM 2015.014.001a-b

This meat can is part of the M-1918 field mess kit issued to soldiers serving during the First World War.

Collection of The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum, Wolseley Barracks, London, ON.

Lunch box, Ca. 1914-1918, Aluminum, RCRM2015.014.002a-b

This metal lunch box was issued to soldiers of the First World War.
Collection of The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum, Wolseley Barracks, London, ON.


Water canteen, Ca. 1914 -1918, Metal, canvas, fabric, cork, RCRM2015.014.005

This metal canteen was issued to soldiers serving in the First World War. The canvas shell was meant to maintain the water temperature above freezing level.
Collection of The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum, Wolseley Barracks, London, ON.


Military training

From 1940-1946 the Woodstock Fairgrounds were converted into a Maintenance and Driving School to train drivers before they headed out overseas. Above: A meal break. Below: Col. Crouch (of the famed London Crouch family) was the Commanding Officer.

Photographs courtesy of County of Oxford Archives


On The Train


(CWHC collection)

The 1953 CN buffet coach, on the tracks in front of the 1932 CN station and home of the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre

Before dining cars on passenger trains were common in North America, a rail passenger's option for meal service while in transit was to patronize one of the roadhouses often located near the railroad's “water stops.” Fare typically consisted of rancid meat, cold beans, and old coffee. Such poor conditions discouraged many from making the journey and it became immediately apparent that passengers would need to be fed onboard. As competition among railroads intensified, dining cars were taken to new levels and the full-service restaurant experience began. Trains with high demand for dining car services sometimes feature "double-unit dining cars" consisting of two adjacent cars, with one car containing a casual galley counter with booth seating and the other car with table seating only.

CPR silverware and silver service. (CWHC collection)

CPR china place setting- designed and donated to honour the 125th anniversary of driving the last spike into Canada's rail system.

Elegant dining cars were outfitted with fine china, silver, linens, fresh ingredients and top-notch wait service. Some of the dishes offered were: Braised Duck Cumberland, Lobster Americaine, Mountain Trout Au Bleu, Curry of Lamb Madras, and Pennepicure Pie. A Christmas menu from 1882 included: Salmon with Hollandaise Sauce, Boned Pheasant in Aspic Jelly, Stuffed Suckling Pig with Applesauce, Antelope Steak with Currant Jelly, Mince Pie, Plum Pudding, Cake & Ice Cream. By the 1920s service on dining cars rivalled that of the most prestigious restaurants, with the unique visual entertainment of the ever-changing view.

A more common sight on trains were buffet coaches and buffet lounges, which had walk up counter service, with stools and booth type seating. The menu was simple fare. A CPR menu from 1954 offered grilled pork chops with fried apple rings for $3.00 or cold chicken with sliced tomatoes for $2.70 and a ham and cheese sandwich for a dollar.

In November 2014, the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre (CWHC) acquired a 1953 Pullman-Standard train car. Having been originally built as a coach for the Grand Trunk Railway, it was converted into a “buffet coach” in 1963 and was eventually reassigned to Canadian National Railway (VIA Rail) in 1972, where it saw service as a “buffet lounge” until its retirement in 1984.

In the summer of 2015 the car was transported 173 kms to its current location at the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre, a historic 1932 CN train station. With seating for forty, washrooms and equipped with a kitchen, long term plans for the dining car include using it for educational programming and events. Exterior restoration to the paint, decals and windows has begun, with fundraising plans in place to restore the interior.

Community Waterfront Heritage Centre is a charitable volunteer-based organization operating a marine, rail & industrial themed heritage centre, located in Owen Sound, Ontario.