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Charlottetown Conference of 1864 was a meeting of minds, with some very good food

The details of the Charlottetown Conference—which set the wheels in motion for confederation, three years later—read like an historical novel. There is a great and powerful delegation, gate crashers, those who did not receive their invitations in time to attend, fancy balls, dinner parties, a travelling circus and ships anchored in the harbour. It’s glorious and romantic—and it’s all ours; the story of how our great nation came into being.

Originally slated as a regional meeting to discuss Maritime union, the Charlottetown Conference took on a new significance when delegates from the Province of Canada (Quebec and Ontario) asked to be included—their objective was to hammer out a deal with the Maritime provinces, creating a British North American union.

They arrived to a city teeming with people from every part of the Island; hotels and restaurants were overflowing and the excitement was palpable.

Alas, it wasn’t the delegates that the Islanders, dressed in their finest, had turned out to see but rather a travelling circus, the first in many years to visit the Island. Due to a lack of sufficient accommodation for all visitors, many delegates were forced to lodge aboard their ships.

Still, while there was serious business at hand, the delegates were wined and dined in fashion. The grandest occasion of all was held at the end of the week—a public ball, the likes of which had never been seen in Charlottetown before.

On the morning of September 12, 1864, The Examiner, a Charlottetown newspaper, reported extensively on the event: “The assembly room was superbly decorated with flags and evergreens. Festoons of green boughs interwoven with flowers, were suspended from the ceilings, crossing and re-crossing each other.”

John Murphy of the North American Hotel was in charge of catering, and he seems to have outdone himself for the occasion: “Everything that could minister to the taste of the epicure, from substantial rounds of beef and splendid hams, to the more delicate trifles of the cuisine, were in great abundance—salmon, lobster salad, oysters prepared in every shape and style, all the different kinds of fowl which the season and market could afford—all vegetable delicacies peculiar to the season—pastry in all forms—fruits in almost every variety—wines of the choicest vintage—were in the greatest profusion, leaving scarcely an inch of vacant space on the wide table. There was never such a ‘spread’ prepared in Charlottetown.”

As a chef, I would love to be able to travel back in time to see that buffet table and take in all the wonderful aromas.

There has been much research done to try to locate specifics of the banquet, however no actual documentation has been found that could lead to recipes. We do know what types of foods were being served in general at that time. Here, then, are three recipes I like to imagine might have been amongst the delicacies on those groaning tables that night.

Recipes in this article:

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