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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.


CBC transports a Canadian family though six decades in Back in Time for Dinner

From a media release:

CBC, 3Bird Media and Entertainment One (eOne) today announced a new factual entertainment series, BACK IN TIME FOR DINNER (6×60), premiering Thursday, June 14 at 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) on CBC. Hosted by Carlo Rota (Great Canadian Food Show, Little Mosque on the Prairie, 24) and based on the hit Warner Bros. format of the same name, this social experiment takes one Canadian family on a whirlwind trip back in time as they eat their way through six decades of Canadian life.

Over the course of the series, the Campus family – five food-loving, busy middle-class suburbanites – will surrender their modern diets and lifestyle to go back in time. Starting in the 1940s and landing in the 1990s, their home will become a virtual time machine as it is transformed into a new decade each week. With a weekly guide presented to the family by host Carlo Rota, the Campuses will cook and eat their way through the experiment, experiencing first-hand changing family dynamics, gender roles and diets, as influenced by the social, technological and economic realities of each decade.

In some episodes, the Campus family will be joined by a special celebrity guest who can shed light on some of the trends from the decades they’re reliving and reflect on iconic moments of that time. Guests include Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison of Canadian music trio Sharon, Lois and Bram; renowned Hockey Night In Canada host Ron MacLean; fitness duo Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod of Body Break; and television personality, fashion editor and author Jeanne Beker.

Chowing down solely on the food of the era, the family will cook and eat their way through Canada’s past. What the family eats — who prepares it, where it comes from, where it’s stored, what foodstuffs are available — will act as a prism, bringing into focus how world events translated onto the dinner plates of everyday Canadians. From frozen dinners to elaborate desserts, every meal will tell a story.

Active and outgoing, the Mississauga, Ontario-based Campus family is used to non-stop action. Busy, multitasking mom Tristan leads the pack, working as a nurse and using her organizational skills and wit to keep everyone in line. Dad Aaron is the family’s calming influence, with an affable, laid back attitude. All three of the Campus kids have busy schedules of their own: Eldest daughter, 18-year-old Valerie, loves music and has a talent for sports, particularly softball and field hockey; 17-year-old Jessica shares her sister’s passion for music, but is also a voracious reader and loves the arts: and 15-year-old son Robert is a hockey nut with a heart of gold, finding time to help everyone in the neighbourhood with anything they need.

A CBC original series, BACK IN TIME FOR DINNER is produced by 3Bird Media and eOne with the participation of the Canada Media Fund and the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit. Executive producers are Jennifer Twamley and Andrika Lawren for 3Bird Media and Jocelyn Hamilton and Vibika Bianchi for eOne.