Preview: CBC’s Back in Time for Dinner is an education in living in Canada decades ago

I grew up the 1970s, the era of strange casseroles and questionable ingredients suspended in Jello salads. Mine was a childhood filled with Cheez Whiz smeared on celery, macaroni loaf sandwiches and copious amounts of Cool Whip on things. I look back on all of that fondly, but I wouldn’t want any of it if offered to me today.

That’s not the case for the Campus family, who signed on to Back in Time for Dinner, CBC’s newest documentary series that transports one family back in time to eat, dress and live like Canadians of yesterday. Hosted by TV veteran and all-around nice guy Carlo Rota, Back in Time for Dinner is a social experiment that takes the Campuses—a middle-class suburban family of five from Mississauga, Ont.—and strips away their modern diets and lifestyle to go back in time.

Starting in the 1940s and landing in the 1990s, their home becomes a time machine as it’s stripped to the studs and transformed into a new decade each week. I’m a sucker for series like this—check out the excellent British series Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm and Wartime Farm on YouTube if you haven’t already—so I was jazzed to see how the Campus family would adapt to old-timey living and the bumps in the road along the way.

Thursday’s first of six episodes at 8 p.m. on CBC begins in the 1940s with the five-person family arriving to see the interior of their house has been totally transformed to reflect that time period. Gone, of course, are modern trappings like big-screen TVs, central heat and—GASP!—the Internet in favour of a fridge-sized radio, an electric stove, icebox and laundry done by hand.

It was the time of the Second World War, and Canadians were enlisting to fight overseas. This country was also a major supplier of food to the Allied countries and that meant food rations at home. It was also a different time in snacking. No chips, cookies and gummy things for teens Valerie, Jessica and Robert. Instead, sardines and other canned meats are the rules of the day. So too were the societal guidelines. Mom Tristan and her daughters are in charge of keeping the house ship-shape inside and purchasing from a grocery list hemmed in by ration coupons. Rather than her usual overflowing grocery carts, Tristan is given a small basket containing her essentials.

As if being a teen wasn’t tough enough, the Campus kids have to attend school in their period-perfect clothing and eat 1940s lunches. Needless to say, Robert is not a fan of his yeast-based bread and “sauce.”

Back in Time for Dinner is certainly fun to watch, but it’s a fantastic history lesson too, thanks to Rota. In between Campus family footage, he narrates what life in Canada is like during those days, from footwear and clothing and hairstyles. As for Night One’s dinner? Pan-fried kidneys with celery sauce on toast and boiled potatoes. (“Every once in awhile you get a whiff of … urine,” Tristan observes as she pan-fries the morsels.)

The first instalment of Back in Time for Dinner is surprising and informative and made me appreciate everything I have today. I can’t wait to see more.

Back in Time for Dinner airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
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8 thoughts on “Preview: CBC’s Back in Time for Dinner is an education in living in Canada decades ago”

  1. “I grew up the 1970s, the era of strange casseroles and questionable ingredients suspended in Jello salads. Mine was a childhood filled with Cheez Whiz smeared on celery, macaroni loaf sandwiches and copious amounts of Cool Whip on things. I look back on all of that fondly, but I wouldn’t want any of it if offered to me today.”

    I agree! But I never experienced macaroni loaf sandwiches. Please describe??!!

  2. Loved the show back so many memories however should also do a segment of either a rural family or a family with family on the front lines waiting next week

  3. Love this series…..would like to buy….available on DVD? I particularly enjoy the historical/social references. Thanks.

  4. Absolutely loved this series. Brought back so many memories! I was born in 1960 and my husband born in 1950 and we have thoroughly enjoyed “going back in time”. My son who is 31 visits on the weekend and we re-watch the shows and he loves it!

  5. You threw historical accuracy of the 40’s out the window. Such a totally askew picture of the 40’s kitchen, the product of a mother/actress that obviously can’t cook … period. Comments like “it took me half the day to just grind the meat” left me more irritated than amused. By the way, cooks today still use manual meat grinders because they do a better job and one can grind up a whole cow in 30 minutes. Those of us who can remember our grandmothers in their 40’s kitchens recall a time when variety was not a problem, particularly with homemade breads, pastries and yes – even meat dishes. Your program falsely suggested everyone went vegetarian in the 40’s. Let me point out that in Ottawa alone, just outside the city, farmers regularly supplied the city with beef, poultry and pork at the local markets. There was NO shortage. In addition you conveniently forgot that cottages were very big in the 40’s and whole families spent every weekend boating and fishing .. and oh yes, having outdoor barbecues. Fresh water rivers and streams at this time were plentiful with pickerel, catfish, sunfish, rock bass, perch, etc. It’s clear the producers of this program didn’t have a clue about this decade at all.

  6. I thought the lack of cooking skills in this family pathetic. Irritating to watch. Are 40-somethings really that clueless?

  7. This is a great show (haven’t seen the original British version yet but will check it out). However I too am very frustrated with the poor cooking skills and frequent references to bad dietary choices “when I want hash browns I go to a drive thru and ask for 6”. Seriously? Who feeds their children like that? Also interesting to watch an entire family eat with only forks! They do not know how to use a knife and fork together! Pity but probably culturally accurate…

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