Student Handout: Shanty Camp Food in Early Canada

Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, loggers toiled in the rugged wilderness to supply Canada's brand new forest products sector. Still one of our country's economic foundations, the forest industry facilitated ship and building construction and the development of many other products. A ready supply also meant Canada could export vast quantities of timber overseas to help rebuild Europe after the Napoleonic wars.

Located deep in this wilderness, shanties (derived from the French word chantier) were the heart of every lumber camp. Each rustic shanty served as sleeping quarters, dining room and kitchen for the lumbermen. Traditionally from September to May, up to 100 loggers would live, sleep and eat, cramped together in shanty accommodations. In the latter period, most lumber camps featured two buildings: one for sleeping and the other for cooking and dining; as well this is where the cook slept.

At the centre of the traditional shanty, beneath a large chimney in the roof, sat an open fire pit called the camboose. This pit was contained by a low log wall and filled with sand upon which a fire burned continuously. In later years, a stove replaced the camboose, thereby reducing the smoke within the shanty.

For the hardworking loggers who needed to be well fed, the camp cook was very important, and his rules, such as no talking during meals, were well respected. When they had the chance, loggers would choose to work at camps based on the cook's reputation for serving tasty meals!

Early on there wasn't much variety on the shanty menu, but the food was usually hot, nourishing and plentiful. Later, the variety of food increased when more vegetables and fruits, and extras such as rice, butter and raisins were introduced.


Before you begin your research, read Parts 2 and 3 below to better understand what is required. Once you understand what you will be doing, begin gathering information from various sources to learn more about shanty camp lifestyle and foods.
1. Study the following five photographs and make notes:
Photo 1: Men of the Camp
Photo 2: Shanty Camp Exterior
Photo 3: Shanty Camp Interior
Photo 4: Shanty Cook at Camboose
Photo 5: Lumber Camp Dining Hall

2. Listen to the following audio clips and take notes.
(Please note that the people being interviewed were elderly at the time of recording and have now passed on. Their way of speaking is sometimes a little different than what is commonly heard today. Please be respectful.)
Audio 1: Hanna McGuey Hyland tells Rory MacKay about Camp Life
Audio 2: Henry McGuey tells Rory MacKay about Shanty Life

3. Read the following excerpts:
Excerpt 1: from Lumber Kings and Shantymen by David Lee
Except 2: from The Camboose Shanty by Charles Macnamara

Using a blank sheet of paper, pencil and ruler, draw and label a floorplan of a typical shanty. Remember to consider the following:
- entrance
- camboose
- cooking areas and food storage
- washing-up facilities
- benches and bunk beds
- areas for sharpening axes and drying clothes

1. In point form, outline a typical day-in-the-life of a shanty camp cook indicating approximate times of day, food prepared and related tasks. Consider the following:
- What time would the cook rise in order to serve breakfast?
- Whose responsibility is it to tend the fire?
- When did lunch preparations need to be complete?
- What time would the men stop working at end of day?
- When would the cook bake bread?
- How long would it take to bake a pot of beans?

2. Using the information below, calculate how much of each food type would be required to feed 105 men over a single logging season (September through May), if each man consumed:
- 0.79 barrels of salt pork
- 0.88 bushels of beans
- 7.1 pounds of tea
- 0.85 barrels of flour
- 3.6 gallons of corn syrup or molasses
- 5.7 pounds of tobacco

Spirits of the Little Bonnechere (page 49). Roderick MacKay. Friends of Bonnechere Parks, Pembroke, Ontario, 1996.

Treena Hein
Rory MacKay, Betty Biesenthal
19th Century
Ontario, CANADA
© 2007, Davenport Centre - Heritage Hall. All Rights Reserved.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans