Here in Toronto, we’ve been eating for a long time

It’s just this habit we’ve got: eating. We can’t seem to do without it; it’s as much of a tradition in Toronto as, I don’t know, breathing and sleeping. So why would someone go so far as to make a whole exhibit about its history? Wasn’t food in Toronto kind of boring until the whole multicultural thing began, 30-40 years ago?

Waste Not –  Want Not. Canada Food Board, 1918, Photo Courtesy of Toronto Public Library (TRL)

Waste Not – Want Not. Canada Food Board, 1918, Photo Courtesy of Toronto Public Library (TRL)

By no means. In many ways, the food culture in the city was as complex and varied as it is today. Look at a seed list from a local paper in 1884, and count the varieties of vegetables listed there. Do we have eleven different kinds of onions available at the supermarket now? Ten kinds of beans? Fourteen different kinds of corn? In many things, we have far less variety now.

It was The Culinary Trust that helped inspire an exhibit currently being held at the Toronto Reference Library: “Local Flavour: Eating in Toronto, 1830-1955.” One of this organization’s programs is “Endangered Treasures,” through which it offers grants to libraries to preserve and restore historic cookbooks of their collections.

It gave one of these grants to the Reference Library for just such a purpose. The curators of this new exhibit (which runs until January 11, 2009) went on to combine the restoration work on several cookbooks with the loan of paintings and photographic images from the City of Toronto’s Art Collection and Archives, and from Library and Archives Canada, as well as historical kitchen artifacts from the City’s Museum and Heritage Services. When all this material is put together, it means there’s a lot of fascinating history in a relatively small space.

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