Category Archives: Food

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.