Victoria’s first foodies featured in new museum book

Some colourful characters kept residents fed and watered in city’s formative years

Robert Griffin

Robert Griffin

Well before the savoury flavours of Pig BBQ Joint graced Blanshard Street and before Wannawafel’s sweet Belgian treats could be smelled in the Inner Harbour, Victoria’s relationship with food looked quite different.

That scenario is the subject of a new book co-authored by the Royal B.C. Museum’s manager of human history, Robert Griffin, and museum volunteer Nancy Oke, who spearheaded the project.

“We have quite a food packaging collection. And looking through it, we didn’t know a lot about it,” Griffin recalls of the initial discussions eight years ago that prompted the book.

“How do you capture food and B.C. products? The food’s usually gone or you can’t really save it … So it was an area where the trial tends to disappear really quickly.”

Feeding the Family: 100 Years of Food and Drink in Victoria is an in-depth look at the people, places and products that helped feed the city’s growing population between the 1840s and 1940s.

The project was intriguing and a great learning experience, Griffin says. He and Oke uncovered stories about local butchers and shop owners through old newspaper clippings.

“Because the population was so small, the newspapers covered mostly little local events. So there are written records of a break-in at a store, or when a cart is pushed over the porch of a grocer,” Griffin says. “They’re not huge incidents, but it gives you a different perspective and understanding of the way things were and how food played a role in the city.”

One of the pair’s favourite stories is about butcher Fredrick Reynolds, who was a successful businessman from San Francisco.

Turns out, he was an eccentric U.S. military deserter. He’d answer his door in the nude and he believed people were hiding in his house.

“There are lots of bits and pieces that I wasn’t aware of when I started this,” Griffin says.

The challenging part was knowing when to stop looking for information.

“There’s lots more we could’ve found. There’s lots more out there in the newspapers and in our collection,” he says.

Feeding the Family is chock full of stories, anecdotes, photos and records documenting how Victoria, as a commercial centre for food production and consumption, grew with the times.

The book is available at most local bookstores and at the Royal B.C. Museum gift shop.

kslavin@saanichnews.com