First Monday Library Chat: Provincial Archives of Alberta

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat! After last month’s chat with the Winterthur Library in Delaware, we now jump to Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada. Today I’m chatting with Glynys Hohmann, Team Lead in Government Records, and Karen Simonson, Reference Archivist in Access and Preservation Services, at the Provincial Archives of Alberta.

You have several early and mid-twentieth-century recipe books in your collection. Can you tell me a bit more about them?

The Provincial Archives of Alberta has recipe books dating from the early to late twentieth-century.  Some of the cookbooks, included in our fonds, were mass produced; others were produced by local organizations and church or women’s groups; and a few of the recipes are handwritten favourites jotted down by the fonds’ creators.

Gladys Ladell’s collection of cookbooks form part of the Ladell family fonds. Her collection of cookbooks date from the 1950s to 1974 and include, as examples, a Marwayne [Alberta] Women’s Institute Cook Book (no date), a Fidelis Club Strathcona Baptist Club’s book of “Favorite Recipes” (1952), a Metropolitan United Church Junior Women’s Association Cook Book (1952), and Kitchen Kapers from the Bittern Lake Community Association (1974). The Metropolitan United Church Junior Women’s Association cookbook demonstrates the diverse ethnicity of the Province of Alberta in a poem:

Here’s to the girls of the WA
(They’re Girls until they are 80. They say).
If you have a yen to be a good cook,
‘Tis simple, you’re in, if you study this book.
There’s pastries and pies, cookies and cakes
Borstch (sic); Chop Suey and for your tummy’s sake,
Try that concoction on page 68.
“It’s yummy.”

Metropolitan United Church Junior W.A. Cookbook 1952
Metropolitan United Church Junior Women’s Association Cookbook, 1952

Other recipes or cookbooks at the Provincial Archives of Alberta are handwritten. In the Cornelia Wood fonds, for instance, there is a notebook of “lessons in cookery” (circa 1912). Written in a scribbler notebook, Cornelia’s recipes included coffee, tea, cereal and cakes, and “general notes” on how to make pastry along with pie fillings, as well as Thanksgiving ideas such as a pumpkin pie recipe.

Other handwritten recipes come from the Bilodeau family fonds. During the 1930s, Gertrude Bilodeau handwrote several recipes in a handmade notebook entitled “True Romance”.  These recipes, possibly taken from a publication, include cinnamon apples, pies, omelets, soufflés and cakes. Another notebook includes baking hints and other kitchen tips, such as “how can I clean leather goods” and “how can I mend a kitchen knife.”

In addition, the Provincial Archives of Alberta houses hundreds of newspapers, on microfilm, from communities both large and small which trace events throughout Alberta’s history. These newspapers often include interesting recipes in their women’s sections.

The subtitle of the Recipes Project blog is “Food, Magic, Science and Medicine.” In addition to your recipe books, do you have other archival items that might be of interest to researchers working on these topics?

Although the Falun Sunshine Food Club fonds does not include recipes or a cookbook, it demonstrates some thoughts around cookery in the early 1950s. At meetings, the club (organized in 1951) would have demonstrations on making muffins, white sauce, cream soup and other foods, as well as demonstrations on how to set the table. During roll call at each meeting, the members would be asked to state different things relating to food such as “recipes I have collected”, “breakfast and dinner menus” and “your weight compared with what it should be.” The minutes record that only two members had their “ideal” weight, while two were underweight and three were overweight.

I love that — ripe with potential for the cultural historian! What other culinary history items can you highlight for me?

The Provincial Archives also has records relating to food establishments. Many fonds include menus from restaurants, hotels, and banquets such as a short order menu from the Dawson Creek Grill, a breakfast menu dating to circa 1923 from the Florence Hotel in Killam, Alberta, menus from the Edmonton Journal’s 60th Anniversary Banquet in 1963, and menus from the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta is the repository for the records of the Government of Alberta; as such, we also have records relating to the Government’s administration of agriculture and food in the province. The Agriculture, Food and Rural Development fonds dates from 1887-1993 and consists of over 1638 metres of textual records. The Dairy Division, a series within the fonds, has records regarding consumer safety and dairy products.

I’m sure most readers of this blog have never been to the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Can you tell us more about your collection as a whole, and what subject strengths you have?

The Provincial Archives of Alberta preserves and makes available for research both private and government records of all media related to the history and culture of Alberta, and serves as the permanent archival repository of the Government of Alberta. The Archives ensures a continuity of historical records of Alberta for today and tomorrow, so that the citizens of Alberta can use these records to better understand themselves.

Photo of girls with bread at Kolokreeka School, Smoky Lake, circa 1930
Baking bread at Kolokreeka School, Smoky Lake, ca. 1930.

The Archives’ mission is “To preserve the collective memory of Alberta, and to contribute to the protection of Albertans’ rights and sense of identity.”

The collection at the Provincial Archives includes:

  • 37,533 metres (123,140 feet) of government textual records
  • 3,434 metres (11,266 feet) of private textual records
  • 105,456 maps, plans and drawings
  • 1,247,525 photographs
  • 53,595 objects of audiovisual holdings including film, video and audio recordings
  • 14,520 volumes in the Sandra Thomson Reading Room Reference Library

How can we access your collections? Do you offer any travel fellowships? How much material is available online?

Most records available at the Provincial Archives of Alberta may only be accessed in person; however, holdings may be searched online. In our online collection of images, there are also descriptions of approximately 199 photographs of restaurants. The Provincial Archives does not provide for travel fellowships.

Thanks, Glynys and Karen, for chatting with me!

Be sure to join us again right after the holidays as we kick off 2014 with an interview with the British Library in London! If you’d like to inquire about featuring a library in this series, feel free to email: Michelle DiMeo.


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