Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Celebrate with A Biscuit

Last weekend at a pool party to celebrated the Diamond Jubilee - we dined on Tilley Tutt's famous Royal Burgers and Regal Dogs - I was reminded of one of the ways these events were commemorated in younger and simpler days.  Purveyors of fine biscuits (and sometimes cakes and teas) would have tins designed to entice you to display not only your good taste in tea time treats but your loyalty to Queen (King), Commonwealth and Dominion.

Gray Dunn was a Scottish biscuit maker with a factory in Glasgow and were known for their commemorative biscuit tins.  I haven't been able to find out much more about them - other than they don't appear to exist any longer.  It would appear that their goods wereimported into Canada and this particular tin geared to the local market for the Royal Tour of 1959.
A Royal visit, birth or wedding would bring forth a special edition of their standard pressed tin containers adorned with patriotic symbols,  flying flags, royal portraits and even photos copied from the newspapers.  I recall my mother having several of these tins from various Royal occasions the prize being a Coronation Tea Caddie which stood proudly on the top of our old Norge Frigidaire holding not a trace of tea leaf but acting as a catch-all for rubber bands, string and spools of thread.  It disappeared in the move from the house to her apartment - I wish I knew where it was now.

The St Lawrence Seaway, allowing clear passage from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes, was proposed in the 1890s but met with resistance from the U.S. Congress and Provincial governments in several instances.  It was only when Canada threatened to go it alone that concerns over American Sovereignty led to the forming of the joint project in 1954.  It was finally opened in June of 1959.

One of last week's guests brought Gateau La Reine Elizabeth* (story and recipe here) but rather than simply wrapping the tasty morsels of this quintessentially Canadian and terribly regal cake in saran wrap she conveyed it in two paper-doily lined tins. The larger of the two commemorated the Silver Jubilee in 1977 but the one that caught my fancy was issued to celebrate a very important Canadian event - the day in June of 1959 when Queen Elizabeth and Dwight D Eisenhower declared the St Lawrence Seaway well and truly open by sailing from St Lambert, Quebec to the Eisenhower Lock in Massena, New York on the Royal Yacht Britannia. 

The Royal Tour in 1959 was a coast to coast event and the Queen and Prince Philip visited every province and territory.  There were additional stops in Chicago and Washington on a visit to the United States as "Queen of Canada".  It is rumoured that Queen Elizabeth, then in the first few months of her pregnancy with her third child, was suffering from bad bouts of morning sickness - but she still managed to carry out all her duties with her normal grace.  When the pregnancy was revealed upon her return to England,  Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was roundly criticized for setting up such a gruelling schedule.  Though there were many things that Dief the Chief could be held accountable for to do him justice he had suggested cutting the Tour short but the Queen refused his offer outright.

The Seaway was both a source of pride and a major bone of contention for many Canadians.  It was much needed as a means of opening the Great Lakes to sea going vessels and as a source of hydro electricity for both Ontario and Up-State New York but much reviled as an environmental and cultural evil.  As early as the 1890s the need for a system of locks and canals to avoid the rapids of the St Lawrence were proposed but sovereignty issues, pressure from the governments of Quebec and Ontario and lobby groups for the railways and ports in the US kept things on the hob for over 75 years.  It was not until 1954, when an uneasy agreement was reached and a joint venture agreed upon,  that work started on the largest system (4000 kms - 2,500 miles) of locks, canals and channels in the world.

While many supported the creation of the Seaway other groups expressed concern over the impact of ocean going vessels on the ecosystem of the Great Lakes - a concern that given the introduction of zebra mussels has some validity - but for a small group the building of the Seaway had a more immediate, personal and heartbreaking impact.  The Canadian government expropriated land along the Ontario waterfront and  6500 people were relocated from their small villages, farms and family homesteads to allow the creation of Lake Lawrence and a deeper channel for the seaway.  Ten communities disappeared under water while buildings in the towns of Morrisburg and Iroquois were relocated and the land inundated by the waters from the dam.  The Lost Villages have been the subject of documentaries, books and to this day bitter controversy - but as one old timer was quoted as saying, in those days if the government said move you moved, there were no protest groups to hold things up.

But on that day in 1959 what was being celebrated was our Queen, our National pride in a major accomplishment and our relations with our big neighbour to the South.  And what the good people at Grey Dunn gave us was a memento of that achievement and that visit - and some very tasty tea time treats to celebrate them with.

*There are many urban legends surrounding this popular Canadian pastry but the one that is most oft repeated links it with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and the World War II.  The Queen was very popular in Canada and a rallying point for much of the war effort - if the Queen can roll bandages during an air raid surely you in the safety of your home can do no less?  The cake was named after her and recipes where sold for 15 cents a copy as a fund raiser.  It soon began appearing in cook books and in "ladies" magazines - both French and English - during the 1940s.  It reappeared in 1953 just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and has remained a favourite in town and country since then.

07 August - 1679: The brigantine Le Griffon, commissioned by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, is towed to the south-eastern end of the Niagara River, to become the first ship to sail the upper Great Lakes of North America.
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abnehmen ohne sport said...

good post

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, I remember a time when no Canadian home was without a Queen or Royal Family tin!