Friday, June 29, 2012

Brandon's First Restaurant...and Domestic Badger

Ken Storie. Winnipeg Times,Nov. 15, 1881
The tale of the founding of what Pierre Berton referred to as the first of the C.P.R. towns is that of a rustic backwater, soon flooded by profit-seeking speculators.  Like many other railway towns, the CPR's great powers of site location would decide who would get rich from the Brandon boom. In 1881, Brandon, Manitoba was little more than a tent city, but real estate fuelled expansion  would soon see the foundations laid for a major prairie grain hub.

Early Brandon is portrayed by Berton as the romantic epitome of the Old West.  The initial post office was reportedly quite austere.  This bastion of civilization and primary contact with the outside world was limited to a soap box with a hole in it, which sat outside the postman's tent.

Berton's characterization of fine dining in Brandon is worth quoting in full:
The first restaurant was a plank laid across two barrels on the trail that was to become Pacific Avenue.  The proprietor was an eccentric, white-bearded cockney named Tom Spence whose entire stock consisted of a keg of cider, a bottle of lime juice, a couple of pails of water, and two drinking glasses.  To attract trade, Spence had chained a live badger to a nearby post, 'just far enough from the counter to be unable to bite the customers.' (Berton, The Last Spike, p.30)
Title: Collection of small animal heads mounted on wall plaques.
Date: [ca. 1893]Photographer: Smyth, S.A., Calgary, Alberta
Early Brandon makes good fodder for the nostalgic lover of the bygone West.  Berton is in his element describing clap-board sidewalks, and rough frontier living.  While the bison and coyote usually take the spotlight in the western genre, it is good to see some other furry friends get their due.  In Berton's anecdote, and on a curious 1890s taxidermy display in Calgary, the noble badger is preeminent among the pantheon of prairie critters.


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