As It Happens

How a decades-old burger became a fixture in the Alberta legislature

A rather limp looking 47-year-old burger sits in a case in the library of the Alberta legislature. The quirky history of the hamburger-turned-official document begins in 1969 with an unsatisfactory lunch. Carol Off speaks with librarian Valerie Footz.
Alberta Legislature Librarian Valerie Footz holds the 47-year-old burger that became an official document when MLA Clarence Copithorne tabled it in 1969. (Alberta Legislature Library)

This story was published on Dec. 15, 2016. The burger turned 50 this year


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A rather limp looking 47-year-old burger sits in a case in the Alberta Legislature Library.

"It's not something that makes your mouth water," said Valerie Footz, the legislature librarian. "[But] you can definitely tell it's a hamburger."

The quirky history of the hamburger-turned-official document begins in 1969 in the middle of a long debate about the interim supply.

MLA Clarence Copithorne, member for Banff-Cochrane and a local rancher stood up and said, "When talking about supply, one thing they should supply us with right upstairs is good nourishment at noon."

Copithorne then reached into his desk drawer and pulled out what he considered a pathetic lunch offering from the legislature cafeteria

"This will give you something to look at," he said. "The honourable ministers can ask themselves why they can't do something about this."

A rather limp looking 47-year-old burger sits in a case in the library of the Alberta Legislature. (Alberta Legislature Library)

He then gave the burger to the pages to give to the clerk.

The burger brought on bipartisan applause and a "hearty desk thumping" in the house.

"Anything that members table in the house becomes part of the official record," Footz said.

So off went the latest official document — complete with cheese, relish and onions.

At the time, his outlandish move made it to the front page of the Edmonton Journal with the punny headline, "Burger gives MLAs food for thought."

The burger returns

It seems the clerk, taking the job seriously (and having some fun) made record of the burger, had it preserved and then gave it back to Copithorne.

More than 40 years later, the library got the burger back. Copithorne's son had found it in the garage in 2008, years after his father had died. The family wondered if the library would be interested in having it back.

"We were," Footz said, "We were all over it."

The official note inside says: "Sessional Paper 301, tabled in the Alberta Legislative Assembly by C. Copithorne on March 27, 1969. Certified the original document. W. H. MacDonald, Clerk of Legislative Assembly."

The official note is certified and encased in the resin with the burger. (Alberta Legislature Library)

The bread and meat patty sits with other strange tabled items like an unopened can of golden caviar and an old bag of dirt.

So what happens if some current MLA doesn't like his or her meat loaf?

Too bad. The Legislature's standing orders were modified in 2002 so that only paper-based items can now be tabled.

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