THOMAS FISHER RARE BOOK LIBRARY
Memory in the Menu
Nostalgia Travels Aboard the Canadian Pacific Railway
All Aboard! Travelling Across Canada by Train
Imagine that you are travelling between Vancouver and Toronto. It is 1941 and you are a passenger on the Canadian Pacific Railway’s train line The Dominion. It’s morning and you arrive in the dining car where you are greeted by the attendant and escorted to your table. The vast Canadian prairie whizzing by your window in a blur, you consult the menu, as pictured below.
Interior of CPR The Dominion breakfast menu, 1941. Courtesy of the Mary Williamson Culinary Collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
What are some of the dishes that stand out to you? Are these meals that you encounter when you travel today? Like many offerings on trains at this time, these menu items can be considered fairly comfortable, relatively simple, but still quite delicious.
The menu was not just a functional way to see what was available for breakfast. Take a look at the front and back cover of the menu.
Front cover (left) and back cover (right) of CPR The Dominion breakfast menu, 1941. Courtesy of the Mary Williamson Culinary Collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
This illustration of The Royal York Hotel on the front is accompanied by a description of the hotel on the back: “The Royal York has a special appeal to business men requiring accommodation … and to vacationists who … wish to enjoy the luxurious comforts of a modern hostelery in a great, metropolitan city.” With a captive audience aboard The Dominion, the CPR had a targeted market – what better way to promote one of the company’s most lavish and refined establishments, an institution to this day in downtown Toronto. As a traveler, would you be intrigued to inquire with the “Sleeping Car Conductor,” as prompted in the footnote on the back, and reserve a room at this hotel? This use of the menu as a marketing tool was common practice, “reinforcing the railroad’s reputation and amenities in the traveler’s mind”
Keep and Collect: The Menu as Memory
Collecting menus was a popular way to remember monumental events, excellent meals, and exciting trips. So commonplace a practice, train lines often encouraged their passengers to retain the menus as a memento of their journey.
The design of the menu, too, represents the era in which it was created – it inspires a longing nostalgia. With its streamlined image and artistic decorations, this menu embodies design elements that gained momentum in the interwar years that mirrored the movements in other design disciplines including architecture and fashion. With its vogue design, would you be inclined to save this menu as a memory of your cross-Canada trip?
Remembering the Travel
Today, this menu is more than just an outline of the breakfast offerings on the CPR’s The Dominion. It is a window into an era of bygone transcontinental travel in Canada. As the CPR was one of Canada’s primary transcontinental people movers – uniting the country, meshing reliability and comfort, creating a luxurious experience for business or pleasure – we are given a glimpse into the etiquette and amenities around wartime train travel in Canada. As a contemporary traveler, I find it interesting that our memories of travel have shifted to focus solely on the destination as opposed to enjoying and remembering the journey as well. What are ways in which you remember your travels and vacations today?
A lifelong and proud Edmontonian, Bretton received his Bachelor of Communications Studies in 2015 from MacEwan University. In 2016, he moved to Toronto to attend the University of Toronto where he is a current student in the Faculty of Information’s Master of Museum Studies programme. As a former Costumed Historical Interpreter at Fort Edmonton Park and a Heritage Interpreter at the Alberta Legislature, Bretton is no stranger to telling stories of migration, identity, and belonging.
Collecting menus was a popular way to remember monumental events, excellent meals, and exciting trips.