By Magpie Group
What were people in Canada eating 50 or even 70 years ago and why? This article is part of a series on Canadian society and food from the 1940s to the 1980s.
The 1960s: A Decade of Dizzying Social and Political Change
The 1960s, also known as the “swinging sixties,” were a whole new bag. The generational gap widened, the divorce rate skyrocketed and the first men landed on the moon. Canadians went to church less and travelled more.
The ‘60s turned the world upside down. A new liberalism filled the air, with more relaxed attitudes about how to dress, eat and live. Women sported beehive hairdos and shortened their hem lines. Chubby Checker taught us how to do “The Twist” and The Beatles made us ‘Come Together.’ Rock concerts in public parks, peace symbols and Flower Power were all symbolic of this decade.
It was also a coming of age era for the Baby Boomer generation, now entering their teenage and early adult years. They cultivated a style that pushed back against a conformist culture: army surplus jackets, tattered blue jeans, granny glasses and long hair for both men and women.
Cultural changes related to gender roles and women’s desire for independence resulted in an upsurge in the women’s liberation movement. This, along with access to birth control pills, saw many women return to the workplace, which meant they had less time for home and family.
Re-evaluating our roles as a nation and in the home
The ‘60s were also one of Canada’s most tumultuous decades. Quebec threatened to separate from the rest of the country and there was general economic unrest.
During this era, Canada struggled to find a role to play on the world stage, while trying to differentiate itself from the United Kingdom and the United States. We adopted the maple leaf flag, leaving Britain to their Union Jack. We also attempted to distance ourselves from the American’s nuclear arms race with the USSR. Rather than adopting U.S. military tactics, Canada’s contribution to defending other countries’ sovereignty became one of peacekeeping – and we embraced it.
This unsettled era also had influence on the home front. Young people begin to question all forms of authority, including their parents. Baby Boomers joined American youth in protesting the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Anti-American sentiment escalated as draft dodgers flooded into Canada. About 40,000 young Americans (mostly men) took refuge in Canada between 1965 and 1967.1
Rebellion manifested itself in other ways, too. Teens and 20-somethings started to experiment with drugs and sexuality and to question societal norms. All of this completely changed family dynamics in that young people no longer asked for advice from their parents or believed that “father knows best.” In many households there was an uneasy existence between adults and Baby Boomers who were asserting their independence and had developed values that were completely different from those of previous generations.
Bringing innovation into the kitchen
Although the ‘60s started out with some economic volatility, the latter part of this decade brought great innovation and improved productivity, leading to higher wages and a higher standard of living. With a buoyed economy, Canadians went on a spending spree, buying up an array of kitchen appliances and gadgetry: dishwashers, electric can openers, non-stick fry pans, coffee grinders and electric knives.
With a buoyed economy, in the 1960s Canadians went on a spending spree, buying up an array of kitchen appliances and gadgetry: dishwashers, electric can openers, non-stick fry pans, coffee grinders and electric knives.
The home became a less formal, more colourful place, filled with space age design and synthetic fabrics in colours like turquoise, orange, lime green and yellow. Stuffy, formal dining rooms were out, and more relaxed eat-in kitchens were the norm.
Since both adults were now working outside the home, there was considerably less time for family meal preparation. The result was an increased demand for “convenience” foods that required little cooking or no additional preparation.
Families devoured Pop-Tarts, Shake n’ Bake chicken and sugary breakfast cereals. Lavish commercials promoted packaged food products sold as time-savers: Dream Whip, instant Jello-O pudding mixes, instant mashed potatoes, Minute Rice and a diverse range of boxed cake mixes – everything from brownies to angel food cake could be ready to eat in under an hour.
Groovy man, can you dig it? Kool-Aid, a popular sugary drink powder, came in a wide range of fruity flavours and psychedelic colours. By simply adding water, kids had a tasty, low-budget treat.
And there was another big change on the home front: the television set. By 1965, 92% of households owned TVs.2 In fact, many families planned their evening meal around their favourite programs. TV dinners – frozen prepared meals heated in the oven – were eaten by family members on TV tables in front of… the TV!
The influence of immigration and a shift to more “natural” foods
In contrast to the many quick and easy foods that flooded the market, new, exciting cuisines were making their way into Canadian households. We were entranced with French cuisine and Julia Child’s cooking show made her a household name. Home cooks prepared French onion soup, duck with orange sauce, and crêpes for the first time.
Changing patterns of immigration continued to influence our food choices. A boom in Italian immigration started after the Second World War and continued to ramp up in the ’60s, making exotic foods like spaghetti a staple in most kitchens. The 1960s also brought larger numbers of people from the West Indies, Hong Kong and southeast Asia. This influx greatly expanded our diets and “ethnic cooking” became more popular.
In contrast to the many quick and easy foods that flooded the market, new, exciting cuisines were making their way into Canadian households. We were entranced with French cuisine and Italian food became popular, as did “ethnic cooking.”
Along with all of this was the “back-to-the-land” movement where city dwellers began to move to more rural areas. This helped give rise to organically grown foods, “natural” ingredients and health food stores. People started to question the use of food additives, which are chemical substances added during food processing to have improve food quality, colour, texture, flavour or shelf life.
In 1967, Canada celebrated its 100th birthday. Communities from coast to coast threw big parties to celebrate. Cookbooks were ideal Centennial projects, both as historical records and fundraisers.
As the 1960s came to a close, Canadians found themselves looking forward to the next decade with renewed optimism and a clearer sense of who we were as a nation.
Other articles in the series:
- Carol Ferguson & Margaret Fraser (1992). A Century of Canadian Home Cooking. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
- CBC (2018). Back in Time for Dinner.