Cooking Up History


The LaHave River running past Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. This waterway was important part of the town's economy, transport routes, and food supply. 

In the years immediately preceding the First World War, Canada was being transformed by new technologies, resources, immigration, and social norms. This is reflected in the LaHave Cookbook, which shows that even the smallest communities were contributing to these widespread changes. At the time of publication, Bridgewater, Nova Scotia was home to only 2,200 residents, but the town was active and growing. This cookbook offers insight into three overarching themes: who was living in the waterside community, how advancements in transportation and technology were affecting the town’s residents, and how specific gender roles played out in the community. 

First, the cookbook provides evidence of who resided in Bridgewater and how they contributed to the town’s development. The story begins during the 1864 Confederation conferences, where Nova Scotia and New Brunswick representatives demanded an intercolonial railway as a condition to joining Canada. They emphasized the need for the movement of people and goods to and from the East Coast without going through the United States. This created a huge demand for overseas workers to support construction of various railways. So, between 1901 and 1911, nearly 2,000,000 immigrants arrived in Canada, several of whom settled in the Maritime provinces. This caused the population of Bridgewater to rise substantially, as it was an attractive location due to its growing ship, steel, and coal industries.  

The majority of the immigrants coming to Canada were from the British Isles and Western Europe, and many of the recipes in the cookbook confirm their influence. For example, there are Hot Cross Buns and Gaelic Fruit Cake from Ireland; Finnan Haddie, a traditional Scottish meal made with smoked haddock; Codfish à la Swede, a Norwegian dish; and Sauerkraut, of German origin. The cookbook also contains a large seafood section, reflecting the town’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Located near the mouth of the LaHave River, there were many ports for incoming and outgoing vessels. In 1908, the Acadia Gas Engines Company was founded, and Bridgewater became the largest inboard marine engine manufacturer in Canada. Bridgewater’s important role in the Atlantic fisheries economy is evident in an advertisement for the Reinhardt Bros general merchandise store (p.73), who specialized in supplying fishing and freighting ships with local produce, eggs, shingles, and wood. 


LaHave Household.jpg

An advertisement for Bates-Freeman Hardware Company, selling various kitchen technologies for women.

The LaHave Cookbook also provides clues about the state of technology and transportation in the pre-war era. The Bridgewater Electric, Light, Water, and Power company was established in 1902, which provided utilities to private homes and businesses. An advertisement for sanitary plumbing services (p.54) confirms that residents were installing new sanitation technologies in their homes, along with hot air furnace heating and new kitchen furnishings. Horses, carriages, and bicycles were common modes of transportation at the time. Although Henry Ford had been producing the much-favoured Model T automobile since 1908, in the pre-war years it remained a luxury that the average middle-class family could not afford. Instead, as advertisements in the cookbook demonstrate, small-town Maritimers used two-seated wagons, top or open style buggies, and Dietz Driving Lamps for safe nighttime navigation with horses. 

Technological advances were also providing relief to women in the kitchen. In the cookbook, a hardware company advertised their wide range of cake mixers, eggbeaters, and stove polish to make cooking and baking more efficient, consistent, and clean. Furthermore, services were aimed at easing women of other domestic duties; for example, Bridgwater Steam Laundry advocated that "the dreadful washday is no longer found in the homes of careful housewives." These time-saving technologies appeared when women were beginning to seek pursuits outside of the home, and would soon become critical for the many women who were called into the paid workforce as men signed up for active duty during the First World War.

Finally, this historical document speaks to women’s role in society during the early 20th century. Most women continued to pursue the role of housewife, confirmed by the introductory poem in the cookbook which intends to "teach the Housewife gay," and that husbands "with happy grunt will eat and smile." Churchgoing was another important activity for women as it displayed their religious affiliation and became a space for socializing. The "Protestant publishing phenomenon" at the time offered women greater opportunity to participate in public life by collecting and sharing their domestic expertise for projects like community cookbooks. Certain recipes like the Never-Fail Cake states "young housekeepers, don’t be afraid to try this," confirming that in smaller Maritime communities, such resources were meant to aid the chore of cooking, and reinforced the commonly accepted norm that the kitchen was woman’s domain.

Overall, the LaHave Cookbook provides a fascinating snapshot of Bridgewater in 1912. The recipes show both the influence of British settlement, as well as the town’s reliance on nearby waterways for food and employment. The advertisements illustrate how technology facilitated transportation and kitchen innovations. Lastly, the cookbook and the organizing committee behind it reflect the important contributions of women in the kitchen and as disseminators of knowledge in their communities. Indeed, the LaHave Cookbook is an important historical document, as it recognizes and celebrates daily life in a small, yet bustling Maritime town. 


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