The Saguenay Cook Book
Organization: Women’s Association of the Arvida Community First United Church
Coordinates: The cookbook is housed at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec
Address: 475, boulevard De Maisonneuve Est, Montréal QC H2L 5C4
Region: Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean
Description: Typed cookbook, assembled and printed by the women at the First United Church in Arvida
Year made: 1944
Made by: Unknown
Colours: Blue, black and white
Provenance: Arvida, Quebec
Size: approx. 21.5 cm x 14 cm
Photos: Courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec
The Saguenay Churches Cookbook
The Saguenay Cook Book represents a very unique chapter in the history of English speaking people who have settled in Quebec. To understand its significance, one must go backwards in time to the creation and history of the town of Arvida, Quebec, the birthplace of the cookbook.
The land around Arvida in the Saguenay district was first cleared in the mid 1800s by Simon Ross, an English-speaking fur trader and homesteader. Despite Ross’s background and language, life in the Saguenay region remained rural, francophone and sparsely inhabited for nearly 70 years after Ross arrived.
In the late 1880s, James B. Duke and his brother, Buck, both Americans, formed the Duke Power Company and set about buying rights to various rivers and large lakes in the United States and Canada. They built power stations along these waterways and began to sell hydro-electric power to local companies and factories.
In 1912, Duke bought the rights to the power on the Saguenay River and in 1925, along with William Price III, a controlling owner of Price Lumber, they organized the damming of Lac Saint-Jean to feed their power station at Isle Maligne. This hydro-electric venture created the world’s largest power station and set the stage for the transformation of the Saguenay Valley.
Two years after the creation of the Lac Saint-Jean dam, Arthur Vining Davis, president of Alcoa Aluminum Company, came north to Quebec to construct the first aluminium smelter. Named “ARVIDA,” after Mr. Davis himself, the place became known as “The City built in 135 Days.”In a few months, 270 workers’ houses went up, along with Catholic and Protestant churches, banks and stores. Within a couple of years, there were schools, a hospital and a vibrant English-speaking community.
Many of Arvida’s inhabitants were skilled workers recruited from the United States and other parts of Canada to the smelting plants. The New York Times described the settlement as “a model town for working families” and this reputation also brought in Europeans, trying to establish new lives from the rubble of their wartime experiences under the Nazis.
During World War II, the smelter was expanded for the war effort and the factories along the Saguenay River became the largest aluminium production centre in the Western world. Because these products were so vital to the war, the town was continually guarded during the war by anti-aircraft batteries.
The importance of their work did not mean, however, that the Arvida workers at the aluminium plant led prosperous lives during the war. On July 24, 1941, 700 workers walked off the job at the local Alcan plant. The following day, they were joined by 4,500 other workers from the region, and together both groups occupied the Arvida plant. It was, in fact, an illegal strike because their work was considered essential to the war effort. It took only a couple of days to bring the workers back on the job, and shortly after that they received a salary increase and cost-of-living bonuses. C.D. Howe, then Minister of Munitions and Supplies, told the media the strike was due to enemy sabotage but this theory was later rejected by a royal commission formed to settle the dispute.
It was in this war-time atmosphere that the Saguenay Cook Book was published. Although organized by the women at Arvida’s First United Church, the contributors come from various towns and villages in the Saguenay region, and the family names are a mixture of both English and French origin.
Reading through its pages, one can see the women’s impressive effort to maintain a day-to-day normalcy and good will “in this fifth year of war.” The content is sprinkled with hints on how to manage with the few resources and supplies available at that time:
“Safe Substitutes : 1 square of unsweetened chocolate = 3 Tbsp. of cocoa and 1 Tbsp. Shortening.”
“Penny Stretchers: Eat more of what you pay for. Cook beet tops, cauliflower leaves and stems, tough stalks of celery and outside leaves of lettuce… Waste nothing.”
Many of the recipes seem completely foreign to our modern tastes. They speak to a simplicity of life and ingredients one can only imagine. For example, Bertha M. Rough offers up Liver Cakes:
Put through the meat grinder: ½ lb liver (calf, pork or beef), 1 onion about 1 ½ inch in diameter, 2 or 3 slices cooked bacon (omit this if you have coupon trouble), ½ slice bread to absorb onion and liver juices. To this mixture add: 2 lbs flour, 1 well-beaten egg, salt and pepper. This should make a batter which can be dropped by spoonfuls into a frying pan, like griddle cakes. Remember that liver should not be over-cooked.
This recipe, along with another called “Sausage and Banana Casserole with Rice,” from Mrs. Guy Beaudry, illustrate the valiant efforts of these women to put a good meal on the table with only a few items in the pantry.
At the very end of the cookbook, there is a section, THE HOSTESS, where one gets a glimpse into the lifestyle – both real and imagined – of the good women of the Saguenay in 1944:
The word ‘hostess’ has a new meaning to-day. Practically every homemaker entertains her friends in small or large groups – and charmingly. She does it where necessary with little or no help, but with a simple perfection that is the result of careful planning or of ever-ready hospitable resources; and of never attempting anything too elaborate or difficult. Simplicity is smartest to-day. The great points are to suit your type of party to your type of guests – and to plan only such parties as lie well within your reach as to expense, facilities and the work involved.
Arvida merged with the city of Jonquière in the 1960s.The Arvida First United Church now has a French-speaking Baptist congregation and the Riverside Regional High School and the Riverside Regional Elementary still offer classes in English to over 500 students.
Dwane Wilkin,“Upper Saguenay Heritage Trail”, http://quebecheritageweb.com/attraction/upper-saguenay
Saguenay & Lac St-Jean History, http://www.saguenaylacsaintjean.ca/en/informations/histoire
Duncan C. Campbell, Global Mission: The Story of Alcan. Volume 1: to 1950, 1985.
Ingrid Peritz, "Saguenay 'utopia' dreaming big again", The Globe and Mail, 13 November 2010.
To Learn More
Katherine Knight, Spuds, Spam and Eating for Victory: Rationing in the Second World War, 2011.
Jill Norman, Eating for Victory: Healthy Home Front Cooking on War Rations, 2007.
Dialogue on Aluminium: 110 Years of Aluminium in Canada www.thealuminiumdialog.com/en/aluminium--2/history/110-years-of-history-...
Janet Torge is one of those people who love to mix it up. She’s a TV documentary producer, writer, prenatal teacher, newspaper columnist, researcher, archivist and creator of Radical Resthomes, her housing vision for the future. Follow her exploits at www.torgeahead.com.