The Coveted Christmas Catalogue

Seasons Greetings to all! With the holidays approaching rapidly, many of us reminisce about the Christmas experiences from childhood. One of the common memories my co- workers and I share is waiting impatiently for the fabled Sears Wish Book to arrive in our mail boxes. For many of us, the arrival of Christmas catalogues was a much anticipated event in our households. The very name, Christmas catalogue, conjures up images of flipping excitedly through pages filled with shiny new toys destined for children’s wish lists. I for one, remember spending hours pouring over the catalogues, carefully folding the corners of the pages containing coveted items and circling of all the gifts I hoped Santa might bring me.

Children waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, 24-Dec-1947 (City of Edmonton Archives EA-600-663b)

In the late 19th Century, mail order catalogues for larger department stores in urban centres, such as Montreal and Toronto, were the norm for purchasing goods in rural communities in Canada. In 1822, the first mail order catalog in Canada was introduced by Carsley’s department store in Montreal. The first Eaton’s Christmas catalogue, called “The Wishing Book” was produced in 1884. Timothy Eaton’s vision was for the book to be accessible to all and “go wherever the maple leaf grows, throughout the vast Dominion.” The department stores had vast mail-order departments dedicated to making sure mail-order customers received their purchases no matter how far the goods had to travel. By the 1950’s, the ability to purchase a variety of consumer goods through mail-order catalogues expanded rapidly. Many department stores marketed to the young and old, with catalogues specifically designed for the lucrative holiday season. The catalogues offered a variety of gift-giving options from fashions to merchandise and included a special section containing all manner of toys for under the Christmas tree. In 1953, Canadian department store giant Simpson’s was acquired by the American Sears. The business merger resulted in the first Simpsons-Sears catalogue to be published and would eventually become the most successful department store catalogue in the country.

If you would like to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit Christmas catalogues from your childhood, please visit Wishbookweb. This fabulous online resource of vintage Christmas catalogues has a current catalog page count of 25,617 pages. For Flash-enabled desktop browsers, users can enjoy full-featured navigation, including text-search features and special page-turning sound effects! Happy browsing!!

Eaton Catalogues:

Simpson-Sears Catalogues:

Snapshot of a few Wishbook Web catalogue resources available, accessed via: Wishbook Web – The Christmas Catalog Archive Project, Dec 4/18.
“A sincere wish for happiness at Christmas and throughout the New Year.” Christmas card, made in Canada date unknown.

Written By: Marsha Mickalyk, Archaeological Permits and Digital Information Coordinator & Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Historic Resources Management Branch.

References

“The Story of the Mail-order Catalogue” http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/edu/ViewLoitCollection.do?method=preview&lang=EN&id=25258 retrieved Dec 06, 2018.

City of Edmonton Archives – https://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca

WishbookWeb – http://www.wishbookweb.com/

A TASTE OF CHRISTMASES PAST

Season’s Greetings! With its hustle and bustle, Christmas Day will soon be here. Before we celebrate the magic of the holiday season, let us look back at the wonder and charm of a simpler time. The extensive photo collections at the Provincial Archives of Alberta and the City of Edmonton Archives offer a unique glimpse into the celebrations of Christmases past in Alberta; the following images were selected from their holdings to create a photo montage dedicated to old-fashioned holiday memories and traditions. Enjoy!


PLUM PUDDING – A VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS MUST!

Not only does the holiday season include fun outdoor activities, festive bright lights and the sweet sounds of Christmas melodies, but it is always filled with an assortment of tasty old-fashioned baked treats. Thanks to our colleagues at Rutherford House Provincial Historic Site, we are pleased to share one of Mrs. Rutherford’s classic Christmas desserts, a treasured family recipe for plum pudding passed down from her mother.

GRANDMOTHER BIRKETT’S PLUM PUDDING

Chop fine 2# suet, add #2 seeded raisins cut in half, #2 seedless raisins, ½# peel, ½ # almonds cut in half or slices 4 cups bread crumbs. Beat 8 eggs, 2 cups milk and 2 cups brown sugar together. Add sifted 2 cups of flour, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg, 2tsp salt, 4 tsp baking soda. Combine with fruit. Fill oiled moulds 2/3 full. Steam 3 – 4 hours.

Sauce for Plum Pudding (Foamy)

½ cup butter

1 cup sugar

3 tbsp boiling water

1 egg

Juice of ½ lemon

1 tsp nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar, beat egg lightly add with lemon juice and nutmeg, beat until light and fluffy. Add water 1 teaspoon at a time and beat well heated over hot water (double boiler?). Serve hot on pudding.

Should any of our readers decide to take it upon themselves to try and make Grandmother Birkett’s Plum Pudding recipe, please let us know how it turns out. Comments are always appreciated; we anxiously await your review!

Traditional Christmas Plum Pudding (from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Food Plate of Puddings – 1890s edition)

Written By: Marsha Mickalyk, Archaeological Permits and Digital Information Coordinator & Pauline Bodevin, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Historic Resources Management Branch.

References

HERMIS (Heritage Resources Management Information System) – https://hermis.alberta.ca/

City of Edmonton Archives – https://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca

Haunted Heritage Part 3: Hair Raising Hotels

Accounts of paranormal activities, ghostly sightings and unexplained phenomena have often been noted in some of the world’s most renowned hotels. Alberta is no exception and is home to several famous hotels with a reputation of spooky occurrences. With Halloween creeping just around the corner, it is a great time to share some supernatural stories about old hotels with a wealth of ghostly lore.

Here are a few allegedly haunted hotels:

The Banff Springs Hotel

The majestic Banff Springs Hotel is a large chateau-style structure overlooking the Bow River Valley in Banff National Park. It is one of our countries original grand railway hotels constructed by Canadian Pacific Railway. Construction on the luxury hotel began in 1887 and it was first opened to the public on June 1, 1888. Between 1890 and 1928, the hotel underwent several periods of construction that involved many improvements to the original building. After a fire destroyed much of the original wooden structure in 1926, the hotel was rebuilt in its current configuration in 1928. Nestled at the foot of Sulphur Read more

Haunted Heritage Part 2: Abandoned Ghost Towns of Alberta

In keeping with the haunted heritage theme started last year, I thought it would be fun to look at some other spooky places in Alberta. Some of the most haunting places in our province are deserted ghost towns. Along any lonely stretch of highway, travellers are bound to come across the decaying remains of one of Alberta’s abandoned towns. Desertion of these small settlements occurred when local natural resources were depleted and transportation routes shifted elsewhere. With no reason for being, these towns became nothing more than crumbling relics of a bygone era.  Read more

Edmonton’s River Valley: The Glitter of the Gold Rush

Every summer around this time of year, I look forward to checking out the sights and sounds of Edmonton’s local exhibition formerly known as Klondike Days. Its very name conjures childhood memories full of non-stop carnival rides, piping hot corn dogs and the sweet smell of freshly spun cotton candy. The name Klondike Days was originally brought in by exhibition organizers in the 1960’s and the Klondike gold rush theme was enthusiastically embraced by the public. I’ve always wondered what our local historical connection to the gold rush really was. Is there really gold to be found in the river valley?

B5280
Man washing gold at Edmonton, 1890. Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta, B5280

Read more

Celebrating National Volunteer Week: Calhoun Bay Archaeological Sites Tour

April 10 to 16, 2016 is National Volunteer Week in Canada. Well over 12.7 million Canadians have generously donated their time and energy to important causes. Volunteers help our communities grow strong and resilient. Even the smallest effort has the ability to transform, leaving profound and lasting effects in local communities. The work of volunteers affects virtually every aspect of our society and the heritage field is no exception. This week is the perfect time to reflect on the importance of volunteer work involved in the preservation of heritage. Over the years, the Archaeological Survey section of Alberta Culture and Tourism has developed a strong working relationship with the staff of the Parks Division of Alberta Environment and Parks. Both ministries regularly collaborate on joint efforts to preserve Alberta’s natural and cultural heritage for future generations. An important component of our preservation partnership is sharing heritage information with Parks volunteers. The Archaeological Survey participates in these programs to help Parks provide support, increase communication and offer new learning experiences for both staff and volunteers.

Calhoun Bay Provincial Recreation Area Parks Volunteer Conference Field Trip

The Archaeological Survey’s Regional Archaeologists, Caroline Hudecek-Cuffe and Wendy Unfreed participated in Alberta Parks’ Volunteer Conference Field Trip to Calhoun Bay Provincial Recreation Area (PRA) as part of a 3-day conference held in September 2015. Calhoun Bay PRA is located along the eastern shores of Buck Lake surrounded by thick boreal forests. On the bus ride to the site, Caroline and Wendy treated their fellow riders to an introduction to Alberta archaeology and explained how the Read more

Love It or Loathe It: A Brief History of the Holiday Fruit Cake

It’s hard to believe the Christmas holidays are just around the corner. Along with all the regular festivities, several traditional foods are due to make their annual appearances. One of the quintessential desserts of the season is the fruit cake. Described as either a rich, moist and flavorful cake filled with holiday cheer or a dried out, tasteless leaden brick chockfull of bitter candied fruit. We seem to have a love-hate relationship with this fruit-filled, spirit-soaked cake garnished with sugar-coated nuts. But why was it invented? How did this tradition start?

fruit cake photo

It turns out that fruit cake has staying power. Its origins may be linked back to the ancient Egyptians who made rich fruit- and nut-laden funerary cakes for their departed loved ones, meant to sustain the dead on their journey to the afterlife. Others trace its early roots back to the ancient Romans’ references to a type of energy loaf, which combined barley mash, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins. A more modern version of fruit cake became popular in the Middle Ages in Western Europe as dried fruits, honey and Read more