Interpretive theme for 2023: Food

How does food connect people? The heritage of food and foodways is broad and multifaceted – ranging from agricultural traditions to multicultural expressions of ourselves. Food unites, connects and defines us.

In 2023, the Trust will explore some of these connections, as well as the history of food culture in our province through food cultivation, production, distribution and sharing. Food reflects our cultural and physical landscapes. Through food, we share family traditions, we recognize our cultural heritage and we acknowledge our unique identities – all of which weave together to create a tapestry of cultures across Ontario. Food provides the ultimate collective comfort, while inherently enriching our senses and our pride of place. It connects us to our unique-to-Ontario dishes or to our deep roots in cultures that extend across the globe. The varied food heritage in this province is a direct reflection of our rich provincial multiculturalism.

Ontario has a long history of food production that stretches back to our Indigenous past. For millennia, the people of what is now Southern Ontario have grown corn, peas, squash, beans, sunflowers, wild rice and more. European farming practices arrived in the late 18th century, adapting to and radically transforming the landscape of the expanding agrarian economy. Our rural landscape is dominated by an agricultural heritage that includes historical field patterns that helped shape roads and maps. This heritage is reflected in the numerous barns, silos, dairies, farmers’ markets, cheese factories, canneries, distilleries and other food and drink processing facilities across the province. Over time, Ontario farmers have adapted to market changes by introducing new crops, livestock, technology and agricultural management practices.

The Trust protects and cares for several natural and cultural heritage properties as well as sites protected by easements, including wetlands, forests, farms, orchards and historical properties. This year, we will explore our long history of connection to the land and the seasons through such things as hunting, plants, medicine, farming and food production, and much of the architecture associated with it.

We will explore both tangible and intangible heritage connections to food. New Canadians bring a tremendous knowledge of food and food preparation from their homelands, enriching us with their new flavours and traditions. These associations unite us and contribute to a better understanding of people from different cultures.

Through ownership and easements, the Trust protects several historical farms as well – for example, Scotsdale Farm in Halton Hills, Thistle Ha’ in Pickering and Homewood in Maitland. We often collaborate with community partners, such as Building Roots at Toronto’s Ashbridge Estate, which cultivates community food-producing gardens and works to improve food security with local markets. And, across the province, we will explore some of the 67 plaques in our inventory that are food- and agriculture-related.

We are excited to program Doors Open Ontario this year with a food-themed focus. We hope to explore farmhouses and farmland, distilleries and breweries, factories and urban markets and a variety of creative adaptive reuse projects through Doors Open Ontario that have changed the way we look at classical architecture.

Across our holdings, including our cultural and archaeological holdings, we will highlight stories of our connection to food from around the world. Through programming at Fulford Place, the Josiah Henson Museum of African-Canadian History, the Ashbridge Estate, Scotsdale Farm, Homewood and Fool’s Paradise, we will explore a variety of food-based connections – from soul food to maple syrup heritage to the history of the apple.

One of the oldest foods known to humankind, apples first appeared in Central Asia thousands of years ago but were not cultivated in Canada until the early 1600s when the first French settlers began planting orchards here. We will look at Ontario’s own McIntosh apple, first cultivated in this province by John McIntosh in 1811, which has become the National Apple of Canada. And we will explore the history of Homewood’s own apple, the Fameuse.

Today, the food industry is supported by a variety of institutions and organizations, such as the University of Guelph, Niagara College’s Canadian Food and Wine Institute, the Central Experimental Farm at Ottawa, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, the Ontario Farmland Trust, the Indian Agricultural Program of Ontario (a First Nation non-profit group), the Ontario Federation of Farmers, the Ojibiikaan Indigenous Cultural Network, Foodland Ontario and thousands of private-sector food production businesses, farmers’ markets and unique food initiatives.

Through numerous partnerships, programming initiatives, Heritage Matters articles, social media and marketing outreach, the Trust will feast on all things food in 2023. What does Ontario bring to the table? Find out this year.