Category Archives: Food

Lunch House in the BC Gold Rush

Did this ‘Lunch House’ serve lunch? Here is an interesting ad printed in the British Colonist August 15, 1860:

Johnson Street
Lunch House
Between Waddington Alley and Wharf Street,
Board and Lodging Reduced to $5.00 per week
Boarders to furnish their own Bedding.
Single meals……….37 ½ cents.

Provisions having fallen considerably, the Proprietor is enabled to make the above reduction without injury to the table.
An experienced Cook is engaged.
Epicures are invited to call.

Wm. R. Bastion

Lunch in the Gold Rush

Lunch in the Gold Rush

Bread making in the Gold Rush

In the 1850s, bread making was a topic of serious discussion in England. People were encouraged to learn how to make their own bread at home rather than pay expensive prices for ‘unwholesome bread’ that could be tainted. By the time of the gold rush, the art of domestic bread making had become easier because of the use of saleterus, which allowed the bread to rise. Saleratus was a leavening agent for baking and was made by injecting pearl ash into the fumes of fermenting molasses. The first formulas for baking powder were developed in the United States in 1850. In that year a cream of tartar baking powder was sold by Preston & Merrill of Boston as “infallible yeast powder.”Bread

In his book, “At Home in the Wilderness” Royal Engineer John Keast Lord wrote that the most important items to take into the wilderness were a wrought-iron camp kettle and a dutch oven. “Flour is very much more easily conveyed on mule-back than ‘hard bread’ or biscuit…whereas biscuit rapidly mildews if damped…” The workers on the survey crew soon learned to make “capital loaves” in small cast-iron ovens with a ration of Preston and Merrill’s Infallible Yeast Powder for rising bread.

A miner who could make a good loaf of bread could easily barter with it when Sunday arrived – a day normally set aside for domestic chores. Miners would wash dirty shirts, darn stockings, repair boots, mend clothing, chop the whole week’s firewood, make and bake bread and boil pork and beans.

Sourdough bread was a favourite food of American gold miners, some of whom carried sourdough starter wherever they travelled, so as to be assured of good bread later on. Sourdough bread had been very popular amongst gold seekers during the California gold rush and the term ‘sourdough’ became associated with the ‘49ers themselves.

At the start of the gold rush, sacks of flour were carried in on the backs of mules or on the backs of gold miners. Some bakeries like the Miners’ Bakery and Restaurant in Barkerville offered an arrangement where miners would drop off flour in exchange for bread. In addition, miners could buy tickets for meals, lunches, pies or cakes.

Most flour was imported from California, but there were exceptions. F.W. Foster milled flour at Lillooet. He advertised flour of all grades: Extra, Superfine and Fine.

Robert Harkness, Overlander, wrote from Richfield June 10, 1863:

“You must pay well for everything here. Flour is $1.12 a pound. This is at the rate of $225 per barrel… Wages are ten dollars a day, out of which you must, of course, board yourself. We live on bread, beans and bacon, with an occasional mess of very tough beef (.50 a pound) and manage to subsist on three to four dollars a day each…I worked pretty hard today carrying stones to a man building a chimney…”

The price of flour dropped considerably with the construction of the Cariboo Road. Still, there were times when it crept up again and this had an effect on the local economy.

On October 17, 1867, the Cariboo Sentinel reported: “Rise in Flour. We understand great apprehensions are being felt by our miners that provisions and especially flour are about to be raised to an unusually high price…” Consequently, many left the Cariboo.

Cows vs. Cabbages in Victoria


British Colonist newspaper advertises cow for sale

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, farms dotted the landscape throughout the Victoria area. Just north of Esquimalt Harbour was a large farm of almost 400 acres. In addition, many settlers in Victoria kept their own cows and chickens as well as vegetable gardens. Druggists sold seeds for vegetables such as turnips and cabbage.

Sometimes there was conflict between neighbours such as the case of ‘Cows vs. Cabbage’ reported by the British Colonist newspaper on June 9, 1864:

Cows vs. Cabbages

Mr. Myers of Fort Street complained yesterday to the stipendary Magistrate that two cows had broken into his garden and had devoured 400 or so cabbages. He had detained one of the animals and had complained to the owner of the other, whom he knew, but who had refused any compensation, telling him he might take a pail of milk every time he caught her in his garden. Mr. Wood [Magistrate] said the custom here seemed to be to allow animals to run at large, and he was afraid he could do nothing for him. His [Myers] best plan would be to milk the cow he had detained until the owner sent for it.

Mr. Myers wrote to the paper the next day to set the record straight:

“…the Magistrate [advised] to sue the owners of the cows for damages, a course I shall certainly pursue in respect to the owner of one of the cows (the owner of the other having compensated me).

Coincidentally, the following notice appeared in the newspaper that same day:

Grazing to Let.
The Grass on a Farm of About 100 acres near Mount Tolmie and within two miles of Victoria suitable for grazing Cattle and Sheep TO LET, with immediate possession for one or more years.
Apply to Mr. Weissenburger Land Agent, Government Street

Saloons and Grog Shops of the Gold Rush

Before saloons had a chance to establish themselves in Cariboo gold rush towns like Van Winkle, Stanley, and Richfield, there were plenty of “grog” shops. Grog was a simple mix of rum and water. As the Hudson’s Bay Company provided a ready supply of their own brand of rum, this was an easy and accessible drink for the weary miner. However, not all the liquor sold at these grog shops came straight from a bottle. Very strong liquor was referred to as “chain lightning” and “mountain howitzer” implied liquor that “kills at over 1000 yards.”

As the mining camps became more established, stone jugs of ale and porter were carried up the trails as well as puncheons of Scotch whiskey and kegs of champagne.

The BC gold rush also brought a mix of British and American influences. Gin punch drinks known in Britain as  ‘John Collins’ were served using cold water and gin while toddys (hot whisky punches) were made with boiling water.

IcePickIn the United States, the profession of saloon keeper had been transformed by the availability of ice year round, due to new storing techniques. Blocks of ice were shipped to saloons and the bartender handled them with tongs and picks. Then they began the task of breaking the blocks apart with axes and mallets. Using a variety of tools, ice was cracked, broken into ‘lumps’ or shaved directly into a glass for individual drinks made to order.

The American Saloon on Yates Street in Victoria advertised “ICE constantly on hand” while the Phoenix Saloon in Victoria advertised “plenty of ice on hand” for sherry cobblers, mint juleps, brandy smashes, Heenan cocktails, and Sayers gin-slings, done up in the latest style by their bartender Frank Pfaff, who came from Portland, Oregon.

Mr. Pfaff most likely used a shaker or tumbler made of tin to mix the sherry cobblers and mint juleps. Sherry cobblers were served with a straw to avoid swallowing pits. For stirring gin slings, he would have used a long-handled spoon with a twisted stem.  Making a drink pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate was a new challenge and bartenders, known as mixologists, were well-regarded.

It is interesting to note that while gold seekers had very little vitamin C in their diet, many of the ice drinks contained slices of lemon or other citrus fruits. Sherry cobblers, for example, were made with a few slices of orange. Perhaps those miners who were fortunate enough to find a saloon were able to stave off scurvy. Gin slings (so named because one would ‘sling’ them back) were once considered a health drink. Similar to toddy, a sling was made with gin, white sugar, water, and a small lump of ice.

The Steward and Barkeeper’s Manual printed in 1869 included a recipe for “Canadian Punch” with the following ingredients:

  • 1 quart of rye whisky;
  • ½ pint of Jamaica rum;
  • ½ pineapple, sliced;
  • 4 lemons, sliced;
  • 2 quarts of water;
  • ice and sugar

Ad Wednesday: Olympia Oysters for sale

Olympia Oysters for sale! Here are some advertisements from November 22, 1865 published in the Vancouver Daily Post (based in Victoria). The Vancouver Daily Post was one of four daily newspapers covering the colony of Vancouver Island.

Oysters, Oysters!
The celebrated
Olympia Oysters, In Every Form!
Piper & Alisky’s,
Government street, opposite the Theatre.
Special accomodation for families




Peter at the Occidental!
Having made arrangements with Captain Finch for
from Olympia, has now the pleasure of informing
The Public, The Trade, and Families,
That in addition to dispensing from the Stand
Fries, Roasts, Stews, etc., as usual,
he is prepared to furnish the
by the bag (100), gallon, quart, etc., to suit all customers, and on the most liberal terms.