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Empress of Ireland -The Dining Experience

by Scott Stewart, Heritage Interpreter

Time 0:06:12


Hello my name is Scott Stewart. I am a Heritage Interpreter here at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. I’m in our Empress of Ireland Exhibit and today I’d like to take a look at the dining experience of passengers aboard ship. On the table in front of me I have various pieces of china, glassware, flatware, and what I like to ask visitors when they come to do the activity with me is where does it all go? Which piece is for which class and how does it all fit together to make a lovely first, second or third class place setting.

So let’s get started with third class. Start at the bottom of the ship and work my way up. So third class is going to be very no frills. We’ll have a main plate, we may have a soup bowl depending on what is being served and a very basic knife, fork and spoon. The Empress is a great example of a passenger ship from the period prior to the First World War where you do have that first, second and third class distinction. This is before the tourist class of the 30’s. The meals won’t be particularly elaborate but they won’t be bad either. Many companies will try to attract visitors aboard by advertising their food. So while won’t be as luxurious as second or first class it is still going to be good, hearty fare. So a nice simple place setting depending on what is being served you might have a regular glass versus a china cup but usually a very simple kind of situation.

So moving on to second class, this is a definite step up from third in terms of all the pieces of the place setting. You are going to start with the charger, the under plate, the first few courses will be served and placed on top of it until you are ready for the entrée and then the charger is replaced with that plate. We are going to have a butter plate placed at the top left of the place setting and soup bowl on top of the charger. We have a few more forks and knives to worry about. Most people are familiar with the outside in rule, so you start your first course with your outermost pieces of flatware and slowly, as courses are changed, you can move your way in. We also have dessert to worry about so we are going to have a dessert fork and spoon placed at the top of the place setting. Knives are always to the right and forks to the left and when you place your knife make sure the blade is pointed in. Soup spoon to the right and breadknife on the plate, napkin to the left of the setting. In terms of glasses, we’ve moved up a little bit. Water goblet placed above the knife and then a wine glass placed next to it. That looks about right.

So to finish things off, last but by no means least, first class. Again we start things off with a charger – very elaborate enamel ware, bread plate top left like in second class. But we have a whole lot more glasses and flatware to deal with. It’s worth pointing out if you don’t start with the soup course your napkin can be placed on top of the charger but we’ll be doing it to the left of the place setting. Knives, again to the right, and if you are worried about fingerprints grip the knives, the forks, and the spoons in the middle so you don’t leave fingerprints on the flattest part. Forks go to the left. We will have to deal with a dessert fork and spoon again, both go to the top of the place setting. Soup spoon to the right of the knives, blades pointed in.

I have this blue line stretched along the edge of the table. Generally when doing a place setting and arranging multiple places you want to have about 24 inches between the center of each charger or 61 centimetres if you want to embrace metric, and this one inch imaginary line away from the table. Your main plate will touch it and every other piece of cutlery, your knives, forks and spoons will butt up against that line. If you have a butler’s stick, that works too, or you could use a ruler. In terms of glasses, I have a couple more to play with. I have a champagne glass, a flute style glass. Before we had the modern flute we had a smaller champagne glass – because it is a shorter glass we are going to put it at the front of the place setting, water goblet at the back. There is a number of different ways you can arrange glasses. I am going to do a diamond pattern just because it is nice and compact with a lot of people crowded around the ship’s dining table. You may want to go for a concise setting. Water goblet at the back, red and white wine glasses and a flute glass at the front. The bread knife should be arranged in a variety of different ways depending on how you set up your glasses. If you were to put your glasses at an angle the butter knife would reflect that, or if you want to tie in with the symmetry of the rest of your items you could put it parallel or perpendicular. We’ll go parallel today. In terms of the final spacing, whatever the distance is between the right edge of your charger and the first knife, that’s going to be mirrored on the table. So, if I have a finger’s width between the charger and the knife, well then I need a finger width throughout. Same with the forks, a finger width between each one. The napkin just to the left, to the top of the plate my dessert fork and knife. That looks about right.

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