Mixed Messages: Making and Shaping Culinary Culture in Canada

2018, Culture, History, Program, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
Canada, coconut, cook books, culinary, curry, food, hand mixer, pineapple, rare books, recipes
About This Project

Curators: Dr. Irina Mihalache & Liz Ridolfo


Project Members: Cassandra Curtis & Sadie MacDonald, Curatorial Assistants


Dates: May 21st, 2018 to August 31st, 2018


Venue: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library


Mixed Messages presents stories of women as agents in food production, exploring the period from the 1840s to the 1960s, with a focus on the Toronto area. It uses objects from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library’s culinary collection to highlight the stories and voices of the people who produced, communicated, and consumed these recipes. Exhibition narratives will also discuss communities and bodies of culinary knowledge that were included and excluded in the creation of cookery material. By displaying these rarely-seen culinary materials, this exhibition seeks to inspire in its audiences a more critical and engaged understanding of culinary culture in Canada.


This exhibition is intended for anyone with an interest in culinary history, rare books, or, simply, food! Mixed Messages seeks to engage a wide range of visitors through the universally relatable topic of the preparation and consumption of delicious culinary creations.


The exhibition is hosted by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. The library features two main gallery spaces; a primary gallery on the second level and a complementary gallery on the first level known as the MacLean Hunter Gallery, which is an active classroom and lecture space. It is the latter gallery which was curated by MMSt students. Mixed Messages is kindly sponsored by the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and funding for exhibition components in the MacLean Hunter Gallery has been generously provided by the University of Toronto Faculty of Information. Resources and hosting space for the Doors Open 2018 programming event have been kindly provided by Fort York National Historic Site.


Preparation for the Mixed Messages exhibit began in the spring of 2017, with the exhibition class curatorial assistants first becoming involved in September of that year. Our work in September through December was dedicated to research, and an exhibition blog was launched in January 2018. Object selections for the gallery were finalized by March and labels were completed by the end of April. The exhibition opened on May 21st, 2018, and closed on August 31st, 2018.


The MacLean Hunter Gallery composes the second part of the Mixed Messages exhibition as a whole, serving as a companion to the upper gallery curated by Irina Mihalache and Elizabeth Ridolfo. The gallery curated by the student assistants features a mixture of rare books, ephemera, and historic culinary objects. These objects include a Gem Chopper meat grinder, a rotary hand mixer, a box of cooking essences, and a 100 year old bottle of curry (with the curry still inside!). The MacLean Hunter Gallery houses features such as cases and wall hanging space to display exhibit material. There are also two interactive iPads featuring supplementary culinary publication material. Interactive objects in the MacLean Hunter Gallery include manual antique culinary technologies, scented cubes, and a “mock cookbook” guestbook. In addition to the physical gallery display space, additional objects and stories in Mixed Messages are shared in an exhibition blog.


Marketing has been done primarily through the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and their loyal network of benefactors, the Friends of the Thomas Fisher. Other marketing strategies included the exhibition blog and the public program at Fort York, which will function as promotion for the exhibition.


Programming has been coordinated in partnership with Fort York National Historic Site as part of their Historic Foodways program. The curators collaborated with the Fort York team to prepare public programming for Doors Open Toronto 2018, which took place on May 26th and 27th. This event provided a behind-the-scenes look at the Mixed Messages exhibition, inviting visitors to take part in activities such as using antique culinary technology and tasting historical recipes.


By engaging with the gallery space and related public programming, visitors to Mixed Messages will learn how historical Canadian homemakers engaged in negotiations of domestic labour and relied on resourcefulness and culinary technology to realize their responsibilities. Visitors will be encouraged to respond to the ideas and technologies on display by considering the role culinary culture plays in their own lives. Furthermore, visitors will have the opportunity to intimately engage with culinary history in interactive stations, thus developing in a hands-on way their knowledge of and connection to the practical applications of culinary history in Canada.


We would like to thank Dr. Irina Mihalache and Elizabeth Ridolfo for their unwavering encouragement and enthusiasm as head curators. To our patrons the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library we also dedicate our appreciation. We would also like to thank Bridget Wranich and the programming team at Fort York for their overwhelming support. Furthermore, we would like to express our gratitude to the University of Toronto Faculty of Information for their guidance and contributions. The help of our partners has enabled Mixed Messages to come to fruition in exciting and tasty ways.