Given the service today it is hard to believe that the railway was a major deciding factor in territories joining the Confederation of Canada. But there was a time when railway travel to almost anywhere in the country was possible and the journey could be an enjoyable one. And one of the most enjoyable things was sitting in the dining car on the Canadian National Railway as you made your way from Montreal to Toronto, Sudbury to Port Arthur/Fort William or clear across the country. Menus were extensive, settings simple but elegant, service old-fashioned in the best sense of the word, and the food was good.
On a recent visit to The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 there was a mock up of the Colonist Car that had been designed to take immigrants from the Immigration pier to their new homes across the country. It was bare bones accommodation and there was no dining car or meal service but there was a stove at one end of the car (left) that allowed new arrivals to cook their own food – which, of course, they had to buy at stops along the way from enterprising newsboys. And in many cases the staples they knew from home were nowhere to be found.
By 1949 train service had returned to a peace time schedule and regular cars ran as part of the boat-train service . When my mother and I headed to Montreal to board the HMS Ascania* there were standard sleeping cars and a dining car. One of the items on display at Pier 21 – just laying on a table for you to exam – was a menu specially designed for the small traveller. Canadian National Railways had started the practice in 1946 with a menu telling the story of the people who make the trip possible: red cap, engineer, conductor, porter, steward, waiter et al. Then the most expensive item on the menu was a set supper of soup, scrambled eggs on toast, sliced tomato, bread and butter with marmalade and cocoa for 50¢.
By 1948 an endearing little bear – perhaps a coincidence but the same year that Eaton’s introduced Punkinhead as their ursine mascot – made his appearance on the menu For Little Folks.
As always a left click will enlarge the photo and reveal the fun of travelling by train across the country.
Perhaps it should be noted that within two years the cost of that same prix-fixe for little folks had gone from .50$ to .85$. An increase of almost 75% in two years – after a depression and a war it looks like times were starting to get better? Or just more expensive?
And the management of CNR does suggest that “exceptional efficiency on the part of Sleeping, Dining and Parlor (sic) Car employees will be gladly recognized if reported …”.
I don’t remember if we took advantage or the dining facilities. I’m sure given our morning arrival in Montreal we must have had breakfast. I can’t imagine what on the menu would have appealed to a very upset two-and-a half year old who couldn’t figure out why his daddy wasn’t there. If family lore is to be believed my poor mother was in for a very trying few months.
*I was surprised to see a model of the Ascania and a mock up of the type of cabin we would have had as part of the Immigration experience.
On this date in 1739: Stono Rebellion, the largest uprising in Britain’s mainland North American colonies prior to the American Revolution, erupts near Charleston, South Carolina.