This Week in Western Canadian History
December 19 - December 25
19 - 25

During this week in western Canadian history, many western Canadians celebrated Christmas. We hope you enjoy these memories and images of Christmas in the West.
Happy Holidays.

Christmas card, ca. 1915


"On Christmas day the flag was hoisted, and all appeared in their best and gaudiest style, to do honour to the holiday. Towards noon every chimney gave evidence of being in full blast, whilst savoury streams of cooking pervaded the atmosphere in all directions. About two o'clock we sat down to dinner. ... At the head, before Mr. Harriett, was a large dish of boiled buffalo hump; at the foot smoked a boiled buffalo calf ... My pleasing duty was to help a dish of mouffle, or dried moose nose; the gentleman on my left distributed, with graceful impartiality, the white fish, delicately browned in buffalo marrow. Magazine Cover, 1933 The worthy priest helped the buffalo tongue, whilst Mr. Rundell [Rundle] cut up the beavers' tails. Nor was the other gentleman left unemployed, as all his spare time was occupied in dissecting a roast wild goose. The centre of the table was graced with piles of potatoes, turnips, and bread conveniently placed so that each could help himself. Such was our jolly Christmas dinner at Edmonton, and long will it remain in my memory, although no pies, or puddings, or blanc manges shed their fragrance over the scene."

- Paul Kane, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America. London : Longmans, 1859.

Christmas card, ca. 1915-1916 "Our Christmas would have seemed strange to many people. No Christmas tree, for there was nothing to put on it; no Christmas gifts, for there were none to buy, and nothing to make them of. Even the Christmas turkey was missing. Indeed it was difficult to get up a dinner one thousand miles away from the nearest town, no butcher, no baker, no grocer, all the people depended upon coming from St. Paul, Minnesota, or London, England. .. Buffalo meat, turnips, potatoes, plum pudding and barley cake - a novel Christmas dinner! But if the minds of the guests traveled back to more sumptuous feasts, the simple meal in no way lost by the comparison. For there were good appetites and grateful hearts for what was really a royal repast in those days, and throughout all was infused that spirit which alone make a ‘Merry Christmas.' "

- Eliza McDougall, McDougall Papers, Glenbow Archives. (The Victoria Mission was north east of present-day Edmonton, Alberta.)
Fort Garry

Christmas card, n.d. "That evening, at supper, the sergeants growled their usual growl about the scarcity of fresh beef and the lavish plentitude of salt pig. They no longer dignified it by the name of pork. Next day was Christmas. Christmas day in barracks is the great day of the year. The sergeants made great preparations for the proper celebration of the day. The rooms were titifed up and ornamented, and varnished, and fixed to no end. The wine list was appalling, and of spirits there were more varieties than ever killed a man in the older provinces. The dinner was to be a great one...

The dinner bugle sounded. The sergeants trooped in. My, what a spread! What a noble display of viands. What an astonishing variety. What a plentitude of everything. Beef! Beef everywhere. Beef soup, beef stewed, beef broiled, beef roasted, beef curried, beef a la everything, beef ad infinitum, beef galore!

They sat down ... there was no longer any grumbling. Every eye shone with pleasure, every mouth watered with anticipation. ‘Pitch in, boys. What'll you have? Try the stewed beef. Is it good?' ‘Good? Well, we should say so. Yum, yum. Betcherboots it's good!'

‘Go to it boys. How do you like the soup?' ‘Haven't tasted anything so good since I left Hamilton.' Such a clatter of knives and forks. Such a disappearance of provender. Such uproarious laughter. Such jokes and quips, and such ejaculations of approval.

‘Best roast beef I ever put a tooth in.' ‘Capital curried beef that. Gimme more.' ‘Nother hunk off that joint, please.' It was a great feast, and a long feast... the beef was praised to the skies. [The quartermaster sergeant] arose to his feet, smiled all around the board, and said "Gentlemen, have I satisfied you at last?' Grand chorus, ‘You have!' ‘Is there one man here who is not perfectly, absolutely satisfied?' Grand chorus, ‘No, not one', and cheers. ‘The dinner has been a great, a noble success?' Grand chorus, ‘It has!' ‘And you would all like to have it repeated tomorrow?' Rousing cheers and grand chorus, ‘We would!'

The Q.M.S. turned to his sergeant and said ‘Then the best thing we can do, Hank, is to go down and get the rest of that old horse from the cellar.' "

- Winnipeg Daily Times, December 24, 1884.
on the

Yukon Field Force "Christmas in 1872 was not the day of days for us where comforts were concerned. There were no glittering electric lights nor coloured tinsels to sparkle and glisten on the Christmas trees. No, but we had lots of towering Christmas trees sparkling with myriad diamonds, placed there by Jack Frost, who reigned gloriously and triumphantly then as he does today.

Carrying Christmas tree Instead of the wonderful choirs singing beautiful Christmas carols, we would lie still at night and hear the howl of the wolves or the shrill cry of the coyote as he answered the call of his mate. And over all was the ‘Peace of the Plain'. We seemed perhaps to understand better in those early days the true meaning of the words ‘Peace on Earth.' "

- Donald Graham, "Christmas 1872." Alberta Historical Review 6:4:7-9 (Autumn 1958).

Christmas Card, ca. 1934 "F Division, stationed at Fort Calgary, commemorated Christmas by a troop dinner, given in the mess room, which was most tastefully decorated with evergreens, flags, and mottoes suitable to the day ... The dinner itself was capital and, for the time being, made all forgetful of their isolated lot; in fact, it was hard to believe they were dining within forty miles of the rocky Mountains, and in a country where earthen floors are the rule, and carpets, staircases, wine and beer luxuries are unknown, though not undreamed of — especially the latter. Lord! How we thirst for it sometimes!

The whole country round were invited for the evening, the inducements being theatricals and songs, followed by a dance... The plays were specially written for the occasion and were a decided success .. The plays were followed by songs, then came the dance. It was an interesting picture, the gaily decorated room garnished with squatting women and children (for whole families came, down even to the last arrival), fiddles going, lights flaring, and in the centre, dancers performing feats of agility as indescribable as they are impossible for a white man to imitate. Refreshments, or rather a substantial supper, disappeared about midnight and, with renewed spirit, quadrilles, jigs, and nondescript figures were kept up until nearly reveille."

- "S." Toronto Mail, February 19, 1877.

Christmas card, ca. 1890-1900 "We made some Christmas cards to send to our relatives and friends in Ontario. We peeled and dried some birch bark off some of the wood pieces from the river bank. We selected our best pressed and dried flowers, that had retained their colouring, pasting them with egg white in a pleasing arrangement or design... For Christmas gifts we had not any but we exchanged some of our treasures and put them on a bare poplar tree ... Children around Christmas tree For dinner we had a cherished wild goose stuffed with potato dressing seasoned with wild sage, vegetable, of course, suit pudding of grated carrots, flour and dried saskatoon berries boiled in a cloth. Mother allowed us some hoarded sugar for taffy, flavoured with wild mint. We danced on the threshing floor and in the evening played hide-and-seek and did some story reading by lamp for a treat as coal-oil is five dollars a gallon at Saskatoon."

- Maryanne Caswell, Pioneer Girl. Toronto : McGraw Hill, 1964.

Christmas Catalogue Cover, 1907 "At 11 o'clock on Christmas Day we had service in our new schoolhouse and heard about Jesus being born and sang our Christmas hymns in Blackfoot. At 1 o'clock, o my! We had a fine dinner, roast beef and plum pudding. Three big plum puddings, one for each table, and Albert, he couldn't eat his all up and Mr. Tims, he said it was the first time Albert said he couldn't eat any more... When tea was over we heard a great nose, and the boys, they said it was old Santa Claus come, and we all ran out and there he was coming over from the Mission house with a long white beard, and a dress like an old woman, and a bundle of things on his arm and we all laughed at him and we all went into the school house. They had got a pine tree and dressed it up with all sorts of things, and all the boys and girls looked happy... Santa Claus began to give us some things. The boys got boots, braces, handkerchiefs, knives, and the little boys got tin horses and dogs and the girls they got dolls and work bags and one got a knife, fork and spoon in a box all the way from Toronto. Then we had apples and scrambled for nuts and candies. After that we had games and played ‘nuts and may' and ‘turn the trencher' and all the Indians, they played too and we sang songs and that was how we spent Christmas."

- Sokumapi in the Calgary Herald, January 16, 1894.

Magazine Cover, 1934 Men around Christmas tree "Christmas day I spent at the home of my friend Shepley with three other bachelor guests. It was different from any Christmas I had ever spent before, but not the least enjoyable by any means. We had very little of the usual paraphernalia of Christmastime. There was no Christmas tree, no holly, no mistletoe, and no girls to kiss under it if there had been. But what really counts at Christmas in a spirit of good will, a good dinner and a good appetite to enjoy it. We had all of these."

- John Wilson in the Grain Grower's Guide, September 20, 1911.

Christmas card, n.d. "Take one quart of brandy, two handfuls of plums and raisins, a chunk of suet, some salt and a lot of flour. Knead the last three ingredients well together; pouring yourself sufficient brandy to keep from getting tired.

When of sufficient consistency hang it on clothes line and beat smartly with a yule log. Roll into a round ball, try and raise it slowly above your head with one hand to see if it is heavy enough and then saturate plentifully with brandy. Set afire to the mess and serve quickly. Return to kitchen and put balance of brandy out of pain."

- Bob Edwards in the Calgary Eye Opener, December 18, 1909.
Oyen, Alberta

Christmas postcard, ca. 1905-1920s "One year, Bob had a part in the nativity scene at the school's Christmas concert. Although his role wasn't that demanding, once in a while he experienced some difficulty in recalling the unusual name of Nazareth in his speech ... When Bob's mother learned about his problem, it didn't take her long to come up with a solution. She simply took an indelible pencil and lettered the word Nazareth on the top inside of his wool undershirt. The stratagem worked well. Any time Bob forgot the word, all he had to do was swing the collar of his underwear to where he could get a glance at it and there was the word inscribed for his benefit. Unfortunately, on the night of the concert, the scheme backfired.

Children at Christmas performance ‘From ... from ... from ...' Bob kept repeating as he searched his mind frantically for the all- important name. He quickly reached for the collar of his undershirt, tugged at it until he could steal a glance, smiled knowingly and spoke out, oh so confidently. ‘From Stanfield came Mary and Joseph weary, but no one would take them in.' But Bob wasn't able to complete his recital as the thunderous applause and laughter drowned out his best efforts to be heard."

- John Charyk, The Biggest Day of the Year. Saskatoon : Western Producer Prairie Press, 1985.

Christmas billboard

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