What is a square meal? A square meal in the gold rush was one that kept gold seekers full all day and gave them enough energy so they could hike the long trails to the gold diggings. The term ‘square meal’ was a common term with Americans as the term square meant ‘right’ or ‘proper’.
The ad below from Hardie’s Hotel in New Westminster advertised ‘square meals’ for 50 cents.
Beans and bacon were considered food staples back then. A goldseeker remarked:
“At the inn here we enjoyed what our Yankee companions called a ‘square meal,’ of the generally characteristic fare of the colony, bacon and beans; the latter are abundantly imported in barrels from the States. Here also, after our toilsome march, we indulged in a good wash, the only really cheap comfort obtainable in British Columbia.”
From pipes to puncheons – barrels of food and liquor
Most of the food that made up a ‘square meal’ was brought by ship in wooden casks and barrels. These barrels ranged in size depending on what they were containing.
Salted beef and pork came in wooden casks called ‘tierces’ which contained 42 gallons.
Liquor was imported in different types of wooden barrels.
A ‘hogshead’ typically contained 63 old wine gallons or 54 old beer gallons. A ‘pipe’ contained twice as much.
Rum and whiskey came in ‘puncheons’ and each puncheon typically held about 84 gallons.
Here is a list of some other types of food that were imported:
Golden Gate Flour
J & H Lard
Turk’s Island salt
mats of China Rice
boxes of Macy’s candles
Harvey’s Scotch Whiskey in puncheons
Holland Gin in pipes
Champagne cider in barrels and kegs
Edinburgh Ale in stone jugs or bulk
India Pale Ale in pints and quarts
hot whiskey punches
Looking for a ‘square meal’
A ‘square meal’ was nearly impossible to find in the Cariboo as Viscount Milton and Dr. Cheadle discovered when they stayed at J.D. Cusheon’s hotel in 1863:
“Our quarters at Cusheon’s Hotel were vile. A blanket spread on the floor of a loft was our bedroom, but the swarms of lice which infested the place rendered sleep almost impossible, and made us think with regret on the soft turf of the prairie, or a mossy couch in the woods. The fare, limited to beefsteaks, bread and dried apples, was wretchedly cooked and frightfully expensive. Beef was worth fifty cents or two shillings a pound, flour the same, a “drink” of anything except water was half a dollar, nor could the smallest article, even a box of matches, be bought for less than a “quarter” -one shilling. Before we reached Williams Creek we paid a dollar and a quarter, or five shillings, for a single pint bottle of stout.”