All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Dining & Entertainment

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Life on the Boats

For a travelling salesman or tourist, a most welcome honour was a word from the steward that the Captain had extended an invitation to sit at his table for dinner. There was no shortage of food and meals were hearty ones. In June 1914 no less than 34,000 meals were served on the 10 Alphabet Fleet vessels in service then. These meals had a total retail value of $6,546.36. Alcoholic drinks and cigars were also immensely popular.

As was the custom on shore, daily food routines were featured on the coastal boats. Breakfast began with a large plate of porridge, followed on alternative days either with Irish stew or eggs with rashers of ham, ending with pots of tea, toast, marmalade and jam. There usually was no written menu. The stewards informed the passengers of available options. On Sunday a fine dinner was served at midday with all the trimmings: roast turkey or beef with gravy, potatoes, carrots, turnips. On Wednesday and Fridays fish was served in various forms in keeping with the mainly Christian heritage of Newfoundlanders. The fish was purchased en route by the steward in the various ports of call. Every lunch and dinner concluded with a dessert. A favourite was rice pudding with raisins. Nobody went hungry on their travels on the coastal boats.

However, this was not the case for the Newfoundland fishermen and their families heading to Labrador to fish for the summer. They brought their own food in a grub box: bread, jam, butter, boiled salt meat, and potatoes. The men did the cooking in the galley when the ship's cook had finished his own cooking for the day. The women and children ate out of the enamel pots sitting on their mattresses, while the men usually ate in the hold, where they slept on top of the freight. Meals were washed down with tea steeped in a tin kettle. It was a real treat when a steward brought down a pot of pea soup. There were no polished silverware or pressed white tablecloths for them. In the 1930s, the fishermen and their families paid between $2 and $5 per person for their one-way passage on the S.S. Kyle, the S.S. Home, or the S.S. Meigle to go north.

In the dining salon on the M.V. Northern Ranger.
The busy dining salon on the M.V. Northern Ranger . Provincial Archives, The Rooms.
Cook and Chief Steward working inside a ship's galley.
Galley on the S.S. Kyle, 1948. Cook Hickey consults with Chief Steward Mike Fowler regarding the day's menu. Cook Horwood is back to the camera. Atlantic Guardian Photo.
Inuit passengers dancing on the S.S. Home, off Labrador.
Inuit passengers perform a mock "sculpting" (seal-skinning) dance, on the after-deck, accompanied on mandolin by one of the S.S. Home's crew, c. 1900. Harry Cuff Publication.
Passengers with 'King Neptune', 1948.
King Neptune comes aboard. Adapting an old naval tradition for a sailor "crossing the line" (equator) for the first time, passengers making their first crossing of the Strait of Belle Isle receive a make-believe "shave" aboard the M.V. Northern Ranger , 1948. Atlantic Guardian Photo.