Winter holiday traditions vary through time and across cultures, but one common thread that seems to run through them is food. During the festive holiday celebrations, food always takes a centre role. When we look back at past Christmases in Campbell River and the North Island, there always seems to be an effort made to provide a feast that can be remembered throughout the year.
Katie Walker Clarke remembered looking forward to Christmas for weeks in Campbell River in the 1890s. It was a busy time for her mother, who had extra cooking to do and was working late into the night making gifts. No one had much money at that time, but one of her neighbours would raise geese each year as Christmas gifts for friends and family, which rivalled any turkey on the dinner table Christmas Day. If there was snow or ice at Christmas, Katie remembers her mother making ice cream. It was boiled custard and cream chilled in a big wooden bucket filled with snow and ice, and it was a delicacy that was savoured for as long as possible.
Monica Rasmussen remembered her childhood in Cape Scott in the early 1900s as a time where there were no luxuries or treats, although they never went hungry. Christmas, of course, was an exceptional time and she recalled all of the wonderful treats to be found in her stocking. Peanuts, Japanese oranges, an apple and homemade candy were rare luxuries on the rugged north coast and Monica vividly remembered looking forward to finding them on Christmas morning.
When some camps around Campbell River shut down for the holidays, the loggers would go to the Willows Hotel for the Christmas feast that the Thulin’s organized. A menu from 1910 lists stewed beef tomatoes, mutton chops, cold sugar cured ham, head cheese, tapioca pudding with lemon sauce and plum pie. Anyone who didn’t have a family to spend Christmas with knew that the Willows would be offering a festive atmosphere and warm welcome.
Diana Kretz (nee Hudson) recalled Christmases in the 1940s at Painters Lodge. The lodge would close down at Christmas and the Painters and their neighbours the Hudsons would gather for Christmas Day. She recalls turkey with all of the trimmings, vegetables, and of course the Christmas pudding. It would be a traditional British fruit pudding with a sweet hard white sauce on it. Coins would be hidden inside and Mr. Painter served it in a way that made sure all of the children ended up with coins. It would arrived at the table flaming, adding to the drama of table set specially for the occasion with linen tablecloths and napkins, and decorative place cards made specially each year by Mr. Hudson. The Christmas crackers were pulled at desert, and when they ate their pudding everyone wore the paper crowns that were in the crackers.
In a North Island Gazette article from 1985, Margaret Chambers remembers past Christmases in Holberg. As with much of the coast, Christmas groceries and gifts arrived by boat and had to be planned out and ordered well in advance. A memorable Christmas was when the Holberg inlet was frozen over and the barge bringing the turkeys and other groceries from Vancouver could not land. That year hot dogs were on the Christmas menu, although there was a belated feast once the turkeys arrived.
It is said that the fondest of memories are made gathered around the table. This is all the more true when the holidays are upon us. The Museum at Campbell River hopes you and your family make many happy memories around the table this Christmas.
by Erika Anderson, December 2016