Skip to the main content

ALL ABOARD!

Welcome to my first blog here at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21! I’d like to share a bit of our collection with you today. After searching for interesting historical tidbits, I came across a few children’s ship and train menus from the 1940s and 1950s. These menus provide a unique window into how passenger travel evolved after the Second World War.

Today’s companies increasingly cater to younger passengers, aiming to highlight their services and products in hopes of attracting them and their parents. Youth now hold more spending power than they did in previous generations.

In the immediate postwar period, the majority of travel between Europe and Canada was by ship. As air travel became more accessible with increased routes, less time spent in transit and lower fares, passengers turned away from ships and trains.

For decades prior to this transformation, ships and trains were vital for travel. Many individuals and families traveled by ship and passed through Pier 21: returning Canadian soldiers and their war brides, and European immigrants and refugees seeking a better life."

In the years immediately after the Second World War, transportation companies such as: Cunard White Star Lines, the Canadian National Railway (CNR) and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) published children’s food menus aboard their ships and trains. In order to attract prospective travellers, transportation companies realized that illustrating the services they offered and the experience that could be had aboard was vital to gaining paying customers over their competitors.

In May 1945, a passenger aboard the SS Duchess of Bedford (operated by Canadian Pacific Steamships Limited) would receive a ship menu with a front page containing a greeting from Captain H.S. Knight and crew wishing them “…all a successful future in Canada.”

Old-fashioned cover of a ship’s menu showing a red and white coloured flag and the name of the ship and ship’s captain.

Ship menu, SS Duchess of Bedford, May 1945

 

On 17 May 1945, the ship sailed from Liverpool, England. During the 10 day journey across the Atlantic Ocean, Children’s Tea was offered and included: creamed minced chicken and ham, boiled fresh eggs, strawberry jelly with cream, vanilla ice cream, peach cream cake, biscuits, bread and butter, jam, fresh milk, tea or cocoa and oranges.

An open page of an old ship’s menu, showing the passenger list on one side and a list of menu items for children.

Children’s Tea menu, SS Duchess of Bedford, May 1945

Certain foods on offer give us a window into the food choices, culinary preparation and eating habits in the 1940s. The aforementioned food included a good source of vitamins, proteins and minerals, but also items heavy in fat and sugars. Today, how many children would eat creamed minced chicken and ham?

Canadian Pacific Steamships Limited also offered baby food which could be “obtained on request to Steward or Stewardess…” The ship offered healthy choices for young passengers. Amongst the choices available were strained vegetables, fresh milk, Ovaltine, tomato juice and Bovril to name a few. On 26 May, the passengers reached Canada’s shores and docked at Pier 21 in Halifax.

A page of an old ship’s menu with a list of baby foods that the ship can provide, such as Ovaltine, Horlicks, Calves Feet Jelly and Bovril.

Baby foods available aboard the SS Duchess of Bedford, May 1945

 

Aboard the Cunard White Star’s RMS Mauritania in March 1946, young passengers could enjoy a “Children’s Tea Party” where “Hickory, Dickory Dock, We start at 3.30 o’clock.” The ship’s menu included: strawberry jam sandwiches, fruit cake, jellies, biscuits, ice cream, fresh milk, tea and oranges. Below the food choices was a little poem:

 

We sailed across the Ocean,
Although we’re very small,
We’re going to see our Daddies,
In our new found land

– Canada (5 March 1946)

 

That same year, the CNR published a Dining Car Menu: For Little Folks. The front page contained illustrations of well-dressed children enjoying themselves while eating in the train’s dining car.

Old-fashioned train’s menu titled for children, with an illustration of train passengers seated at a table in the dining car.

CNR’s Dining Car Menu: For Little Folks, 1946

The inner pages of the menu pamphlet contained illustrations and a story romanticizing the CNR and a career on the railways for children to look up to. A red cap (baggage handler), engineer, conductor, porter, steward and waiter were all depicted. The menu pamphlet also informed adult passengers of the various services that were offered, from getting on the train and having your baggage taken, to having your sleeping car made ready for you.

Pamphlet inside an old-fashioned train’s menu that tells the story of a little boy travelling by train, illustrations are provided.

Inner menu pamphlet, CNR, 1946

Pamphlet inside an old-fashioned train’s menu that tells the story of a little boy travelling by train, illustrations are provided.

Inner menu pamphlet, CNR, 1946

The CNR asked its passengers to inform the manager of “exceptional efficiency on the part of Sleeping, Dining and Parlor Car employees [so they could]…be gladly recognized if reported…”

For little boys and little girls, the CNR offered breakfast, dinner and supper menus. The most expensive items came from the supper menu and cost $0.50 each. Items included scrambled eggs, buttered brown bread, cold sliced chicken, ice cream, milk and cocoa. The most affordable items were from the breakfast menu in which a choice of fruit, or a cereal bowl of bread and milk cost $0.25.

Old-fashioned menu showing possibilities for breakfast, dinner and supper for little boys and girls.

Menu for “Little Boys and Little Girls,” CNR, 1946

 

In 1948, the CNR’s Dining Car Menu for Little Folks included illustrations of a little bear climbing a tree, taking a snooze in the sleeping car, playing, and crossing the railway tracks. The back page of the menu contained an illustration of the bear serving supper to a little blond-haired girl. The dining table included two sets of forks, knives and a spoon. Prices for supper had risen from $0.25 in 1946 to $0.85 for the same items.

Front and back cover of an old-fashioned train’s menu, the front showing a cartoon bear with a bib seated at a table, the back shows the same bear serving food to a little blonde girl.

CNR’s Dining Car Menu for Little Folks, front and back cover, 1948

Old-fashioned menu opened to the middle page. There are menu items listed, the list being surrounded by illustrations of bears climbing trees.

CNR’s Dining Car Menu for Little Folks, 1948

Open page of an insert in an old-fashioned menu, there is a story and lovely illustrations of a young bear doing various activities.

Story included in CNR’s Dining Car Menu for Little Folks, 1948

Open page of an insert in an old-fashioned menu, there is a story and lovely illustrations of a young bear doing various activities

Story included in CNR’s Dining Car Menu for Little Folks, 1948

In April 1953, the RMS Ascania offered a menu titled: Children’s Party and paired some of its offerings with fictional characters that children would recognize. Peaches and Cream was associated with Little Red Riding Hood, while Jack and Jill “went up the hill, Came back with Fancy Pastries.” Fruit tarts belonged to the Queen of Hearts and the Party Cake to Prince Charming.

Sailing aboard the MS Johan van Oldenbarnevelt in May 1957, young passengers were offered tomato soup, marmalades, jams, cheese, tea and milk. For lunch, minestrone soup, cooked codfish, potatoes and a salad could be purchased. Aboard the ship, seasoned sausage, potatoes, Gouda cheese, peanut butter, apple syrup, tea, milk, chocolate and popcorn could be purchased for dinner. Quite a rich selection indeed!

Ship and train menus give us a glimpse into the history of passenger travel, transportation marketing and foodways amongst others. Over the past several decades, modes of transportation drastically changed. In the 1940s, ship travel was the most affordable and efficient way of coming to Canada from Europe. Upon arriving on Canadian soil at Pier 21, European immigrants, refugees, soldiers and war brides boarded trains to continue their journeys to destinations across Canada.