Cooking Up History

Cover with a drawing of a covered wagon.

Though Buckskin Cookery was published in 1957, it is not representative of that era's cooking practices and preferences; instead, it is "a souvenir cookbook compiled of recipes by donations of pioneers and Natives of B.C.,” and highlights more historical and traditional recipes and food preparation methods. Although this cookbook was published well after European settlers had established themselves on the lands that now comprise modern-day British Columbia, the book aims to showcase life before settlers first started surveying the lands for economic development. 

Seagoing explorers made the West Coast of North America a layover while on the hunt to find the Northwest Passage in the later 18th century. However, it was not until the 19th century that outsiders decided to set up settlements along the coast. They chose to live in and around the coast, rather than the forested and mountainous regions, as they were dangerous and daunting for the newcomers. The majority of the White population settled on what is now known as Vancouver Island. It was not until the gold rush in 1858 that non-Indigenous settlers flooded into the interior of British Columbia along the Fraser River in search of their fortunes. The gold rush was sparked by Simon Fraser’s search for a navigable route to the Pacific Ocean and the discovery of gold fragments. Although the search for the passage was unsuccessful, Fraser's ventures up the river resulted in the development of settlements in the interior of British Columbia as word of the "New El Dorado" traveled across North America. At the expense of many Indigenous groups, such as the Dakelh (or Carrier) people, immigrants flooded the islands along the Fraser River in search of gold fragments. 


Although European settlers started stepping foot on North American lands as early as the 10th Century CE, they were certainly not the first people to live there; Indigenous groups had been living on these territories for dozens of thousands of years. Some anthropologists estimate that the Indigenous population of British Columbia before European contact was anywhere between 80,000-200,000 people. They engaged in complex trading relationships and would exchange goods that each group specialized in. It was estimated that by 1750, the Tsimshian (who lived near present-day Prince Rupert) traded fifty kinds of goods using twenty separate trade routes. The arrival of Europeans brought a range of foreign diseases that decimated an estimated 90% of the Indigenous population of British Columbia. Nomadic groups were forced onto reservations and restricted from participating in the economy. The decimation of Indigenous communities and the systemic racism that accompanied colonization of British Columbia lands would have lasting impacts. Racist remarks and terminology can be seen throughout the Buckskin Cookery book, and depicts how settlers used Indigenous resources and then forced them to assimilate to Euro-Canadian ideals.

Quesnel, British Columbia is located in the Cariboo Regional District between Prince George and Kamloops at the intersection of the Fraser and Quesnel Rivers. The town of Quesnel was named after the explorer Simon Fraser’s clerk, Jules Maurice Quesnel. The original inhabitants of these areas are the Dakelh, later named the Carrier people who established trade relationships with European traders. The community expanded after the gold rush in 1858 and Quesnel became a supply center and major stopover to Barkerville after the Cariboo Wagon Road was made in 1861. Quesnel is also known for its forestry industry. During the Second World War, the town became a major supplier of birch to build Mosquito Bombers. By 1952, there were 180 sawmills and five planer mills within a 30-mile radius of Quesnel. 


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