I love flying down to earth and helping people travel back in time to discover what life was really like in a bygone era. How much was different? And at the same time, how much about life was the same, regardless of the era.
Let me help you with historical research tips and tricks including the use of archives and other rarified collections. Along the way I'll also share some of my own research experiences and discoveries, and some of my own writing on Vancouver's local history.
Another sad loss in the local historical community this year was Professor Robert (Bob) A.J McDonald who died June 19, 2019
I met Bob while I worked at the City of Vancouver Archives in the 1990s while he was researching his book, Making Vancouver – Class, Status, and Social Boundaries – 1863-1913, a comprehensive social history of Vancouver’s development
He was always available and encouraging of the various historical projects I was working on including my tenure as president of the Vancouver Historical Society in the late 1990s. And one year, on International Women’s Day (IWD) he brought in an IWD button that he’d gotten in England many years before – an artifact!
Once, when my children were very young and I didn’t seem to get out much I ran into him on the street. The first thing he asked me was what (historical) project I was working on.
Bob was a great guy and as sad as his memorial service was it was also a beautiful tribute to his time with us on earth and I realized how many people he touched deeply. He led a rich life and contributed so much to our local historical knowledge – a local hero.
Elizabeth Walker, who was the head of the Northwest History Room at the Vancouver Public Library was motivated to write this reference book because so many people asked her about how their street was named or who it was named after.
So after she retired she took on this project, spending hours at the Vancouver city archives and the Special Collections Divison of the main Vancouver Library.
Street Names of Vancouver is an immensely valuable resource that I consult at least once a week.
As well as notes on street names, arranged in alphabetical order, the book includes:
information on the street numbering system in Vancouver
notes on numbered streets and name changes
map of street names 1870-1899
map of street names 1900-1929 #
map of street names 1930-1999
bibliography including maps consulted
additions, omissions, and revisions since publication in 1999
# The separate municipalities of South Vancouver, Point Grey, and Vancouver amalgamated in 1929 precipitating a number of street name amalgamations and changes.
The online version is simply a pdf so to search, do “control F”.
Elizabeth Walker died earlier this year but her work lives on.
We know about the ravages of smallpox in the colonies of North America, and the devastation they brought to the First Nations communities here but lesser known is an outbreak that occurred in Vancouver in 1892.
Stories about the outbreak can be found within Early Vancouver, a 7-volume set of books filled with the documented interviews of early Vancouver settlers undertaken by the city’s first archivist Major James Skitt Matthews.
Early Vancouver includes stories and first-hand accounts and details about early Vancouver people, places, businesses, and events, including a few stories about the smallpox outbreak here, in 1892.
I will write about some of the idiosyncracies of Early Vancouver (of which there are many) in a later post but for now, here are some stories I found about the 1892 smallpox outbreak. In them you will also find information about the volunteer fire brigade, Port Moody, Dupont St (now part of East Pender St.), prostitution, the character of various streets in the city at that time, and more.
From Early Vancouver Vol 1, p. 85 from Mrs. J.Z. Hall
” I think it must have been in 1892 that we had the smallpox scare in Vancouver. It was supposed to have come in by the “Empresses”[steamships] from the Orient (sic).”
“It was a terrible July; yellow flags were everywhere; no one who went through it will forget the scare we got. Houses were quarantined back and front—there was no getting out of them; people were quarantined all over the city. We lived on Nelson Street—I was Miss Greer then—Nelson Street was very sparsely settled, so was Robson Street, but there were cases on Robson Street. One young man, [who helped] Mr. Hanna, the undertaker, contracted the disease and died.”
“It was the custom to put those stricken in an express wagon, and with the driver ringing a bell to keep people away, warning them, the load of sick, frequently girls from Dupont Street, who had been visited by the sailors from the Empresses, would be driven down to the dock, and taken by boat to Deadman’s Island”
From Early Vancouver Vol 4, p 171, from A.W. Fraser
“I saw the trouble the time the Premier [a ship] tried to land her passengers when we had the smallpox scare. I did not see the start; the news soon spread, and by the time I got there, there was a big crowd down on the C.P.R. wharf. The news soon spread through the little city.”
“It was this way. Capt. O’Brien was in command of the Premier, as she was then; an American ship; flew the American flag, and had been down at Seattle and of course, when she came in [to Vancouver] she had to pass the customs, and the health officer went on board and he found smallpox, and would not allow the passengers to land, and Capt. O’Brien was determined to land his passengers. So Capt. O’Brien mustered his passengers, and said he would land the whole crowd of them, and then the fun started.”
“The news spread like wildfire, and in those days we had only three or four policemen in town, and they could not handle the situation, so they called out the fire brigade. The fire brigade was all volunteers then, and I don’t know just all about it, because I was not there at the start, but the Premier turned her steam hose on to drive the crowd of onlookers on the wharf further back, and some of the crew on the Premier started to throw lumps of coal, and then the fire brigade turned on the [cold water] hose, and someone cut the ship’s line, and she drifted off into the harbour, and hung about for a while, and then she turned and headed for Port Moody, and of course there was no road to Port Moody then, and she went to Port Moody quicker than they could, and she went up to Port Moody and there was no one there to stop them landing the passengers.”
Since 2011 Early Vancouver has been available electronically, allowing for online searches.
I’ll write more about Major Matthews and about Early Vancouver in the weeks to come
One of the most valuable resources on trades and labour issues, including strkes is the Labour Gazette, produced by the Canadian government 1900-1978.
The federal Department of Labour (now Labour and Social Development Canada). was initiated by the Conciliation Act of 1900. The department’s mandate was to prevent and settle trade disputes and to publish accurate and statistical industrial information about conditions in Canadian industry and labour.
The department published the Labour Gazette, a monthly publication which began September 1900, following the same content and format of gazettes used in Britain and other commonwealth countries at the same time.
Local correspondents collected data and reported monthly on a wide range of labour and industry related events and evolving trends and statistics.
The Labour Gazette contains:
Reports from local correspondents on industry composition (gender, wage, productivity, and more) in cities and regions of the country
Reports from different industries (cigar-making, coal, fishing, farming, building trades and more)
Department of Labour reports
Lock-outs, strikes and other labour disputes
Cost of living reports
Lists of trade unions founded in the year of publication
Wage rates by industry
Lists of trade unions founded in the year of publication
Decisions on worker compensation claims
Relevant provincial legislation in the year of publication
It’s an immensely rich resource and can give you ideas for writing or other creative work grounded in history, or to allow you to create acccurate portrayals of working people at the time.
Each annual edition is made up of 12 bound reports with one comprehensive index at the very front.
The Vancouver Public Library has the Labour Gazette in an incomplete run spanning the years 1900-1942. They are located in the Business section of the library in compact shelving. The location can be confusing and access may require assistance from a librarian so be sure to ask for help.
Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa has the complete run of Labour Gazettes, but not in electronic format.
I’m toying with the idea of having either my protagonist, Annie, or her sister – or both – working at the New Westminster and Burrard Inlet Telephone Company (later BC Tel and later still, Telus) and taking part in a strike that really took place in Vancouver, against the company in the early 20th century.
On November 26, 1902, women telephone operators from the phone company, along with linesmen, inspectors, and repairmen struck for higher pay, shorter hours, and recognition of their union.
Telephones had already become crucial to running a business in Vancouver, so businessmen (sic) in the city supported the strikers and even offered to volunteer to help keep the service running while negotiations were underway.
A little over two weeks later, on December 12th, the company gave in to all of the strikers’ demands including implementation of an 8-hour work day and provision of three days sick leave per month.
Every phone operator who’d been with the company for six months or more received a raise of $2.50/month. This brought their pay up to $20/month, ($300/year), the poverty line at that time.
Long distance operators got $32.50/month, and linesmen $66/month.