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March 24, 2014 | by  |  This Day In Vancouver


Vancouverites rejoice and manufacturers prepare as, for the first time since 1886, the BC legislature legalizes the sale and production of a highly contentious food product: margarine.

“The manufacture and sale of oleomargarine in British Columbia became legal today,” reports the Vancouver Sun. “The Legislature gave its approval Wednesday to the margarine measure which specifies the amount of yellow colouring allowed in it, requires clear labelling that it is not butter and makes restaurants inform the public when they are serving it instead of butter. The ‘Farm Bloc’ in the Legislature softened most of their opposition as the bill was given approval because they had won their fight against completely unrestricted sale of oleo. Several uttered minor protests against allowing any yellow in oleo at all, but there was no attempt to call a recorded division on the question.”

The legalization (following a 70-year ban) comes after a furious battle between margarine manufacturers and the BC dairy industry, which has, for decades, been fearful of the product’s impact on its business. Margarine, which has been illegal in Canada since 1886, was still referred to as a banned substance in British Columbia until the passage of the legislation, on the advice of Attorney General G.S. Wismer (a figure seen as sympathetic to the butter lobby), even after the federal government ruled that its restriction of the low-cost alternative was unlawful. However, after legalization in other provinces, and a letter campaign to Wismer himself from more than 1,500 BC women (a campaign spearheaded by promargarine forces, among them shopping columnist “Penny Wise” and Point Grey MLA Tillie Rolston), the legislature at last passed An Act Respecting Oleomargarine.

A number of restrictions will remain, among them, that margarine not be used in any provincial institution and that the substance not be permitted to resemble butter in either shape or colour. Successive attempts in the early 1950s to remove restrictions on the colour of margarine will be defeated, thanks in large part to strenuous objections from the butter lobby. Despite initial enthusiasm, the papers caution that bulk production will not be available until early April.

“The Vancouver plan operators said that their product would not be on the market,” the Victoria Daily Colonist will report, “until it is 100 per cent perfect.”

That December, Vancouver will go on to produce the first commercial margarine in the country.


IMAGE: A butter-wrapping machine, circa 1940. Image Courtesy of the Vancouver Archives.

Jesse Donaldson is a journalist and historian whose work has appeared in VICE, The Tyee, subTerrain, and SadMag. If you think THIS is neat, an expanded "This Day In Vancouver", is now available in book form, in bookstores everywhere, and online at Anvil Press.


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