||January/February 2002 issue||
Canadian food firsts
Harvest of Goodwill (Feature) |
Canadian food firsts |
Just the beer facts
Food nutrition lables get a facelift |
Securing a meal |
The ABCs of healthy eating |
Comfort food |
Dining al fresco |
A taste of Paris
enjoy food, and we’ve cooked up a number of unique delectables
and growing and processing techniques that are all our own. Although the
origins of some of these inventions are debatable, here is a sampling
of our culinary claims to fame dating back more than 100 years.
Apples are Canada’s most important fruit crop, and the McIntosh variety
is a Canadian original. French settlers brought apples to Port Royal,
N.S., as early as 1606 and from there, apple cultivation spread inland.
In 1811, John McIntosh, who immigrated to Canada in 1796, discovered an
abandoned stand of apple trees near present-day Dundela, Ont. He transplanted
some of the trees to his own land, and one in particular produced superior
fruit — this was the birth of the McIntosh apple. In 1835 his son,
Allan, learned the technique of grafting, moving the family’s apple
production to a grand scale. That first McIntosh tree lived until 1910,
and bore fruit for more than 90 years.
Electric cooking range
An electrical engineer and businessman, Thomas Ahearn of Ottawa reputedly
invented the electric cooking range in 1882, which was installed in the
Although ginger ale is also claimed to be an Irish invention, many recognize
this tasty beverage as a Canadian creation by John McLaughlin, a chemist
and pharmacist. Having established a soda water bottling plant in Toronto
in 1890, McLaughlin began developing flavour extracts to add to the water
in 1904. That year, he introduced "Pale Dry Ginger Ale," the
bubbly libation that would be patented in 1907 as "Canada Dry Ginger
Ale." An instant success, Canada Dry products were accepted by appointment
to the Royal Household of the governor general, and although the company
has changed hands a number of times, today the products are sold around
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the development of the Prairies was limited
by its short growing season. In 1875, the introduction of a hardy wheat
variety called Red Fife improved farmers’ prospects in the difficult
climate, but it was often damaged by frosts. It wasn’t until Sir
Charles Saunders developed Marquis wheat that the western farmlands were
on their way to becoming the "Wheatbasket of the world." Saunders
carefully developed Marquis wheat by selecting the best heads from a cross
of Red Fife and an Indian variety called Hard Red Calcutta. The resulting
strain produced high yields and matured earlier than Red Fife, making
it more likely that the crop could be harvested before the frosts of fall
touched the fields. Introduced to farmers in 1909, by 1920 Marquis accounted
for 90 percent of Western Canadian wheat. When Saunders passed away, one
newspaper wrote that "he had contributed more to the wealth of his
country than any other man."
Although chocolate has been around for a long time, a Canadian, family-owned
chocolate factory, Ganong Brothers Ltd., is credited with introducing
the five-cent chocolate nut bar in 1910. Legend has it that Arthur Ganong
and factory supervisor George Ensor were inspired to create the bar as
a convenient snack for fishermen, as the company factory in St. Stephen,
N.B., was near popular fishing grounds where the St. Croix River enters
Passamaquoddy Bay. The Ganong company remains successful today, and is
still located in the same town.
When J.L. Kraft was a young man growing up on a dairy farm in Stevensville,
Ont., he was annoyed at seeing the wastefulness that came of selling cheese.
Stores tended to have big wheels of cheddar sitting out, and each day
the shopkeeper would scrape off the dried-out surfaces and throw them
away — along with profits and the cheese’s quality. In 1903,
Kraft moved to Chicago to enter the wholesale cheese business. He was
driven to improve cheese’s marketability and modify it to keep better,
cook better, minimize waste and be sold in convenient sizes. Experimenting
with different formulas using a double-boiler and a copper kettle, Kraft’s
efforts resulted in success with his 1916 patent for what would become
known as processed cheese. Buying a Montréal cheese factory, Kraft
entered the Canadian market in 1920. His cheese and expanded line of products
quickly made Kraft a household name.
It’s probably no surprise that the first frozen food should be fish,
and that this innovation should happen on Canada’s East Coast where
the fishery has been an important industry for centuries. But the history
of frozen food is a bit more complicated than that. In 1926, the Biological
Board of Canada (later the Fisheries Research Board) in Halifax decided
to investigate the market potential for high quality frozen fish. Archibald
Huntsman, a marine scientist on the board, developed "Ice Fillets"
within two years. The board introduced the fillets in Toronto in 1929,
the first time that packaged, quick-frozen food was sold to the public.
Despite the high price, the frozen fish was an instant success. However,
much to Hunstman’s disappointment, the fishing industry and private
companies lost interest and the project was scrapped in 1931. Despite
the Canadian debut in 1929, an American, Colonel Clarence Birdseye, claimed
credit for starting the frozen-food industry in 1930. He had been developing
frozen foods independently at the same time, but his products did not
enter the market until March 6, 1930.
In 1930, three doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children developed
Pablum, the vitamin-enriched and pre-cooked baby cereal that saved thousands
of children from death and disease. Doctors Alan Brown, Theodore Drake
and Fred Tisdall created the cereal from a mixture of wheatmeal, oatmeal,
cornmeal, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, bone meal and alfalfa. And
besides providing children with a nutritious food, royalties from the
product were used to fund research on hip dislocations, scoliosis and
"blue baby" heart defects.
Everyone agrees that the fatty, gravy-laden treat called poutine was created
in Quebec, but lots of people claim to have been the inventor. However,
many accept that the first order of the french-fry-and-cheese-curd concoction
was served up by restaurant owner Fernand Lachance in 1957. These days,
poutine can be found in a variety of fast-food joints across the country.
Instant mashed potatoes
Research scientist Edward Asselbergs put a new spin on our biggest vegetable
crop, the potato, when he invented instant mashed potato flakes in 1962.
Asselbergs created the dehydrated flakes while working for the Department
of Agriculture in Ottawa. The powdered food technique he developed was
applied widely to fortify foods with protein in nutrient-deficient countries
and to create convenient foods that could be used by campers or in military
Developed over several decades by Canadian plant breeders, canola is a
genetic variation of rapeseed, an important vegetable oil crop grown in
Asia for almost 4,000 years. After the Second World War, however, associations
between the high levels of erucic acid plus glucosinates in rapeseed and
certain health problems were discovered. Recognizing this, the federal
government’s Health and Welfare Department encouraged the production
of varieties of rapeseed with reduced erucic acid and glucosinate levels.
In 1974, Baldur Stefansson of the University of Manitoba bred the first
"double-low" variety, called Tower, that met these goals.
It would go on to become the crop we know as "canola." Because
canola is considered to be a relatively healthy oil, its growing use in
cooking and in processed foods is making it an increasingly important
Do you agree that Canada should have a national bird?