By Rebecca Murray
Butter—what could be better? You don’t have to look far, or very hard, to be inspired when working with Canada’s documentary heritage. Think documents of great historic importance, photographs and artistic works of iconic significance, and objects that tell stories we can only dream of living ourselves. Oh, and butter wrappers. What? Those icky, waxy wrappers that are harder to manipulate than fitted sheets? They are helpful for measuring how much butter to cut into my baking or cooking, but are otherwise destined for the garbage bin, as soon as I can wrangle them off the stick of butter. Yet, one day while reading a finding aid, I happened upon a file titled “Collection of butter wrappers and boxes used in retailing.” My friends, I just had to see what was in this file.
Let’s cut to the chase: yes, it was full of butter wrappers. They were lovely. They weren’t waxy or buttery or crinkled. They were all flat and shiny and quite well preserved, although I don’t think they were actually ever wrapped around fatty sticks of butter.
As a reference archivist, I read a lot of finding aids and open a lot of archival boxes. I get to hold history in my hands. Each of these three butter labels represented an agricultural product that comes from our great land and the people who inhabit and work it. Do you recognize any of these labels?
Something that struck me while consulting the wrappers is that they represent a long, rich tradition of dairy farming in our country. Wrappers like these must have been found in kitchens and cold rooms in big cities and small towns alike, uniting Canadians in their daily rituals of butter consumption.
Each of these butter wrappers represents a jumping off point from which any number of archival documents or published items could be identified, allowing a researcher to discover the history of the company or the region-specific industry.
Does the history of the production and consumption of dairy in Canada pique your interest? You might want to check out some of the following holdings:
- Department of Agriculture fonds (RG17), which includes material related to the National Farm Products Council and the Canadian Dairy Commission
- National Dairy Council of Canada fonds (R15527)
- Dairy Farmers of Canada fonds (MG28-I442)
Or, you can search for keywords like dairy, butter or cheese in Archives Search and see what comes up! You never know what you will find in the holdings of Library and Archives Canada.
Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the References Services Division, Library and Archives Canada