Cooking Up History


The middle years of the 20th century were characterized by specific ideas surrounding men's and women's ideal roles in Canadian society. Generally, women were expected to be caring mothers, hard-working homemakers, and obedient wives. It was a significant time in history due to beliefs and values being grounded in the importance of the nuclear family and heterosexual conformity. As Canadian men returned from the front lines in 1945-46, a rush of marriages occurred and these new families needed a home. Thus, the postwar era was marked by a massive boom in new home construction. Young families desired space to grow, so construction of new homes largely moved out of cities and into the surrounding areas known as suburbs. New suburban communities allowed Canadian families to meet, form bonds, and stay connected. Prefab, or cookie-cutter houses, were the norm due to their lower cost and how quickly they could be constructed. Within these homes, women dressed up their kitchens using the latest and greatest design elements, includng the popular techno/space-age kitchen idea. A variety of new and colourful smaller kitchen appliances appeared on the market, including blenders and hand mixers, available in a variety of colours to suit the housewife's taste. Within Favourite Housekeeping Tips and Tricks, several advertisements speak to the trend of the techno kitchen. For example, in an advertisement sponsored by Ajax Hydro, a beaming woman is standing in her modern-looking kitchen, surrounded by new appliances and accompanied by the the caption: “Take things easy in your kitchen.” Such messages reinforced that though appliances saved women time in the kitchen, they also added to women's already heavy workloads. 


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In the postwar era, the stereotypical White, middle-class family living in suburban Canada was constructed as the ideal domestic arrangement. The so-called "perfect" household at this time was dependent on women's willingness to adhere to traditional notions about gender roles; women were to be wives and mothers first. Along with heteronormativity and the nuclear family, Canadians were also pressured into becoming avid spenders. The postwar era was marked by rampant consumerism as a host of new domestic technologies and products flooded the market. Through cookbooks, we are given a unique glimpse at the importance of domesticity and consumption. In Favourite Recipes and Housekeeping Tips and Tricks, only women are depicted alongside the kitchen, reinforcing the traditional roles and values of the time. Advertisements also promote marriage as the ultimate goal for men and women, with the man as the breadwinner and the woman as the supportive housewife. This concept was evident in many different forms of postwar literature, including cookbooks. Alongside playing the part of dutiful wife and mother, women were also expected to look good and pay attention to their appearance. In Favourite Recipes and Housekeeping Tips and Tricks, a recommendation is provided for removing a lipstick stain, signifying that women wore make-up to enhance their beauty. 

The ideal Canadian woman in the middle years of the 20th century was also expected to give back to her community and contribute to a variety of charitable causes. Through such endeavours, though expected of them, many women gained a sense of independence and satisfaction; participating in tasks outside of the home could counteract feelings of loneliness or boredom with domesticity. The Ladies Auxiliary Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Ajax is an excellent example of how willing women were to assist their community and seek out a respite from their daily domestic responsibilities. 


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