Sweet treats from far away—anticipating Japanese “Christmas oranges”

By Caitlin Webster

This Christmas, many children will find a mandarin orange in the toe of their stocking. Few will realize how rare a treat this once was.

In our current era of multinational trade agreements, large-scale container shipping, and modern cold-storage technology, Canadians have come to expect international products on their grocery shelves year-round; however, for much of the 20th century, many foreign-grown items were available only as seasonal luxuries. Not surprisingly, their arrival each year drew excitement and publicity on par with today’s latest high tech.

A particularly sweet example was the introduction of oranges from overseas to the Canadian market. For northern consumers accustomed to local fare, these delicacies were an exotic change of pace from their usual root-cellar staples. In fact, to publicize the availability of these oranges, some early promotional posters looked more like educational pamphlets.

Poster showing a colour drawing of an orange, surrounded by the phrase “Oranges from South Africa.” Poster also includes the text “When it was winter here it was summer in South Africa and the fruits have been ripened and ready for you to eat them to-day. Try them.”

Oranges from South Africa—try them (e010758837)

While all fresh fruit was welcome during cold Canadian winters, the introduction of Japanese “Christmas oranges” became a holiday tradition, as well as a symbol of modern trade. Starting in the 1880s, the arrival of satsuma oranges from Japan generated great excitement each year. British Columbians eagerly anticipated the first shipments every winter, when the Port of Vancouver hosted celebrations and media events beside ships delivering oranges.

Photograph showing port officials holding boxes of mandarin oranges, two Japanese women in traditional dress standing by a pallet of orange boxes, and other people and equipment on a pier adjacent to a ship.

Port officials and two Japanese women in traditional dress with crates of mandarin oranges at the Port of Vancouver. Credit: M. Toddington (e011435438)

Photograph of two Japanese women wearing traditional dress, one of whom is holding a peeled mandarin orange. Crates of oranges and a ship are visible in the background.

Two Japanese women in traditional dress posing with a mandarin orange. Credit: M. Toddington (e011435437)

The oranges were then loaded onto special trains and trucks for shipment east.

Photograph of workers with hundreds of crates of oranges on a ship deck.

Crates of Japanese oranges on a ship. Photo: Leonard Frank (e011435435)

Port workers unloading crates of oranges from a ship, using cranes and carts.

Unloading Japanese oranges from a ship. Photo: Leonard Frank (e011435434)

An article entitled “Japanese Oranges for Canadian Christmas,” which appeared in several Canadian newspapers, including The Granby Leader-Mail on December 30, 1927, described this phenomenon vividly:

“Rather more than four oranges for every man, woman and child in Canada or a total of 482,000 boxes of this fragrant fruit were landed at Pier “B-C” of the Canadian Pacific Railway at Vancouver in December, and were rushed through the prairie provinces and to the east of Canada for the Christmas trade. … [I]n all seven special trains were used to convey this huge consignment. The likelihood is therefore pretty strong that many of the oranges you may see hanging from Christmas trees or peeping out of Christmas stockings were grown in the Land of the Rising Sun. It i[s] further an indication of the great trade passing through the port of Vancouver.”

Photograph of a train at a pier, with a banner on a sign indicating that the train has a special shipment of Japanese oranges.

Japanese oranges at CPR Pier “B-C.” Photo: Leonard Frank (e011435433)

By the 1980s, consumers no longer saw mandarin oranges as rare, special-occasion luxuries. Advances in modern container shipping, as well as an influx of oranges from China and California, meant that the fruit was now available in greater quantities, at lower prices, and for longer stretches of time. Nevertheless, “Christmas oranges” still make their way into stockings, gift baskets and fruit bowls every holiday season.

Check out our Flickr album on Oranges!

Photograph of four boys in matching striped pyjamas hanging Christmas stockings on a fireplace mantle.

Young boys hanging up their stockings. Photo: Malak Karsh (e011177219)


Caitlin Webster is a senior archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Vancouver office of Library and Archives Canada.

The George Ayoub fonds – a passion for ships

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Many people enjoy birdwatching, trainspotting or stargazing, but George Ayoub loved observing ships. Ship watching and nautical history fascinate many Canadians. This is no wonder, since our country has over 200,000 kilometres of coastline and almost 800,000 kilometres of freshwater shores.

George Ayoub was born in 1916 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. In 1930, he became a sailor at age 14, with a lifelong passion for ships and maritime history. His collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, gives us a glimpse into the nautical past and the waterways that helped shape our nation and build our economy. The fonds includes over 20,000 of his photographs taken between 1940 and 1990 at various locations along our seaways, most notably the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes, the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal. The vast collection of images provides fascinating insight into the history of shipping as well as the use of leisure craft. The fonds also includes textual material that complements the photographs and that records not only the history of the shipping industry but also individual ships that sailed the waters.

St. Lawrence Seaway

The St. Lawrence Seaway, opened in 1959, transformed the shipping industry by opening the Great Lakes to ocean-going traffic. When the seaway opened, George Ayoub started to compile an important collection of records on the backgrounds of the different vessels that came to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway during the 20th century. He also photographed many of these himself. Today, the St. Lawrence Seaway is one of the great ship canals of the world, carrying freight between the heart of North America and the rest of the world. The George Ayoub fonds contains numerous images that reflect the variety of vessels that travelled the seaway.

A black-and-white photograph of a moored tugboat. The crew is on the deck.

Jean-T on the St. Lawrence Seaway, Iroquois, Ontario, September 28, 1975. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213397. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub

A black-and-white photograph of a large ship passing through the canal.

Kingdoc on the St. Lawrence Seaway, Iroquois, Ontario, September 5, 1965. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213399. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub.

Rideau Canal and Ottawa River

Officially opened in 1832, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. The War of 1812 made clear the need to have a navigable waterway connecting Lake Ontario to the Ottawa River, because traffic on the St. Lawrence River was vulnerable to attack. The huge undertaking provided a secure supply route from Montréal to Kingston that avoided the St. Lawrence.

The Rideau Canal locks provide wonderful boat-watching opportunities. Around many locks, onlookers often watch in fascination as the locks move the vessels along. The George Ayoub fonds includes many excellent photos, taken over the years, of boats passing through the locks.

A black-and-white photograph of a moored leisure vessel on a canal beside a large building.

Korab in front of the National Arts Centre, Rideau Canal, Ottawa, June 14, 1971. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213400. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub

A black-and-white photograph of a small moored fire boat in a wooded stretch of waterway

St. John’s Fire Boat (Gatineau Boom Company) at a dock near Hull, Quebec, November 19, 1967. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213403. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub.

A black-and-white photograph of a tugboat towing a sailboat across the water.

Sailing yacht Wild Harp pulled by tugboat TANAC V-222, September 10, 1972. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213404. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub.

A black-and-white photograph of a medium-sized boat in the process of crossing a system of locks.

Templeton in the Rideau Locks, Ottawa, April 17, 1964. Credit: George Ayoub/Library and Archives Canada/George Ayoub fonds/e011213405. Copyright: Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner the Estate of George Ayoub.

Canada’s affinity with water is shaped by our vast and beautiful shorelines. Ship watching continues to be a major tourist attraction for many communities along waterways. From busy shipping routes to quiet, peaceful lakes, Canadian waterways truly help us live up to our motto, “a mari usque ad mare”: “from sea to sea.”

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Kelly Anne Griffin is an archival assistant in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.