A Poor Man'€™s Meal: Molasses in Atlantic Canada

Lay Summary 

Part of an early trade triangle that linked Atlantic Canada to the West Indies through the exchange of fish, molasses was integral to the survival of some of the region’s earliest settlers. Throughout the nineteenth century, molasses was a common ingredient in everyday and festive baking, a sweetener in tea, and a part of many remedies. Most commonly, molasses was served on bread as an accompaniment to, or a substitute for a meal. Molasses filled you up when there was little or nothing else to eat.

This article explores stories Atlantic Canadians tell themselves about themselves through molasses. Noting past and present links to geographically distinct social hierarchies and power relations, it documents the importance of molasses for Atlantic Canadians. It reflects on how memory and popular culture come together around molasses to transform poverty and nostalgia into iconic past landscapes.

This article is based on library research and archival research, as well as interviews. It is based on an earlier paper, “Molasses: From ‘Poor Man’s Meal’ to Regional Icon,” which was presented at the Folklore Studies Association of Canada meeting in Toronto in 2006.

Article to be published in Food, Culture and Society, v. 11, no. 3, 2008.

St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
New Brunswick
Nova Scotia
Prince Edward Island
Industry Sectors 
Food Manufacturing
Scientific Research and Development Services
Start date 
1 Jan 2008