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Gastown – never an official name for what became Vancouver

Gastown was never an official place name for what later became Vancouver, even though it shows up on some historical maps.

It was a local sobriquet,  an

  •  assumed name.
  • nickname; or fanciful appellation
  • affectionate or humorous nickname

The tiny place, officially named Granville, aka the Old Granville Townsite (OGT) was only a few blocks long in each direction and the majority of the businesses there were saloons servicing the men who lived and worked outside the town limits, at Hastings Sawmill.

And, like everywhere, it had a local character who put a stamp on the place – in this case Jack Deighton, who kept the Deighton House Salooon. He was the kind of guy who liked to talk and had a quick wit and a boisterous voice to boot. You can almost hear his hearty laugh as he sipped whisky and teased one of the millworkers who frequented his saloon.

Someone who talked alot was said to be Gassy – hence his nickname, Gassy Jack.  And in the guys from the mill who headed over to Granville to drink and gamble started calling it Gastown, the name stuck and evern shows up on maps.

As an aside, Hastings Townsite was much further east – closer to where Renfrew Street is now.  It was a vacation spot  with a few houses and hotels.

British Columbia history, Historical documents, Historical novel, Historical research, Historiography, Novel excerpt, Real Estate, Research, Research Tip, social history, Writers

Port Moody passed over in favour of Vancouver

 

grayscale photography of railway surrounded by trees

Photo by Thomas Craig on Pexels.com

“The new town, called Vancouver, will no doubt be of some detriment to Port Moody”

 

This quote, comes from the 1887 BC Directory’s introduction to Port Moody, the city that had its designation as the terminus for the national railway pulled out from under it that year, in favour of Vancouver.

Rampant speculation, investment and enthusiasm ran high in the few years prior as Port Moody prepared for the onslaught of growth and investor interest that would come with the rail terminus.

But a syndicate of the CPR, headed by CPR Vice-president William Van Horne negotiated a deal with Premier William Smithe  to bring the terminus to Granville (later Vancouver) in exchange for 6000 acres of land.

Interestingly, title to this land went not to the company, but to two of its board members, Donald Smith and Richard Angus.

And you have to be suspicious when, a few years later, Smith and Angus, along with other Victoria government officials, businessmen, and politicians earned spectacular profits on real estate parceling and selling of that land.

This is an important piece of Vancouver’s earliest settler history. The speculative nature of real estate profiteering from the 1880s  established much of our local politics and business interests to this day.

Ironically, the world view that engendered this display of greed and avarice entirely dismissed any First Nations claims to this land in the first place.

In the novel I’m working on, set in Vancouver 1884-1913, I’m exploring these and related issues from a young settler woman’s perspective.

Reference Tip

I can’t tell you how much I love the old directories to get a snapshot of the moment from that time’s perspective and countless “reading between the lines” possibilities that they provide.

I consulted the early BC Directories to learn more about Port Moody when one of my characters wants to get out of Granville (later Vancouver) because he can’t stand the boredom and backwardness of it. I have him weighing the pros and cons of moving to New Westminster or Port Moody in the months before the final CPR announcement in favour of Vancouver.

 

Archives, Cellulose acetate, Historical photos, Photo processing, Preservation, Vancouver history, Visual Art

Cellulose Acetate photographic negatives preserved in the freezer

City of Vancouver Archives (CVA)  has recently begun a project to digitize thousands of negatives created by commercial Vancouver photographer Don Coltman who worked at Williams Brothers Photographers, and whose images were created in the years 1941-55.

Coltman’s images cover such subjects as

This is exciting news and will add much to the photo collection of Vancouver images that are available online.

old camera

Researchers will be happy to know that all Coltman’s photographs are in the public domain and will be freely available for use once the project is finished.

The negatives are made of rapidly deteriorating cellulose acetate and are stored frozen to keep them from deteriorating further.

Because cellulose acetate is toxic, the CVA had to develop a way to digitize the negatives that would still be safe for staff and figure out a way to manage preservation of the negatives while also reducing the amount of time they are out of the freezer.

See the link at the top for more about the chemistry and preservation of cellulose acetate photos and about the CVA’s preservation work with the Coltman collection.

 

Archives, Audio archives, England, Great Britain, Historical documents, Oral history, recording technology, women's history

Early Spoken word recordings

brown and black gramophone
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Have you ever wondered how Christabel Pankhurst sounded when rousing women to fight for the right to vote? Or Aga Khan III speaking to Muslim people? Or the Queen mom as a young woman exhorting the women of England to be brave during war? How about Robert Baden Powell, speaking to young boyscouts in the early 20th century?

We can easily find material to read about these people and what they stood for. But it is rare to actually hear their voices and hear their passion and personality come through in speech.

The British Library Sound archive holds recordings of various public figures including these and many more, most of them recorded before the advent of long-playing records and tapes.

They are recordings of speeches and messages addressed to the British parliament or the public at various events.

The library warns users to be aware that the recordings are historical documents and that language, tone and content could be offensive to  present-day listeners

Archives, Audio archives, England, Great Britain, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Music, Oral history, Research, Scotland

Children’s games and songs

Another interesting collection within the British library’s sound archive are recordings of childrens’ games and songs made by Iona Opie and her husband Peter between 1969 and 1983, the Opie collection.

The Opie’s dedicated their working lives to the documentation of children’s play, folklore, language and literature.

They also published several influential works, most notably The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959).

Recordings are searchable by British county using an alphabetical drop-down menu, or by the name of the interviewer or interviewee.

 

 

Archives, Audio archives, Cornwall, England, Great Britain, Historical novel, Historical research, Oral history, Research, Scotland, Sound effects, Writers, Yorkshire

A snapshot of words and phrases

More from the British Library Sound Archives that I wrote about in last week’s blog post.

Under the BBC Voices project, you can listen to speakers from all the counties of Britain to hear how they pronounce words in the early 21st century – and what words are in their current lexicon.

I took a quick listen to the people from Cornwall – because I’ve heard that people from that region have a strong accent that is difficult for outsiders to understand (though I didn’t find that from what I listened to – local accents are becoming less distinct with the movement of people from different regions). I also listened to speakers from West Yorkshire because that’s where the protagonist of my historical novel comes from. 

 

four women chatting while sitting on bench
Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

Two of the recordings from the West Yorkshire area (Leeds) feature speakers from the Jamaican and Punjabi communities there which adds another flavour to the evolution of the English language

Between 2004 and 2005 group conversations were recorded in 303 locations involving a total of 1,293 people across the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The vast majority of conversations were conducted in English, but the collection also includes 31 interviews in Scots, 9 in Welsh, 5 in Scots Gaelic, 3 in Irish, 3 in Ulster Scots, and 1 each in Manx and Guernsey French. The selection available here represents the entire set of conversations conducted in English and Scots.

There are further recordings of accents and dialects on Sounds Familiar, which is an interactive, educational website with 78 extracts from recordings of speakers from across the UK and over 600 audio clips that illustrate changes and variations in contemporary British English. 

 

More about the audio libary holdings next time.

 

Archives, Audio archives, England, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Music, Oral history, Paintings, Research, Sound effects, Street sounds, Theatre, Visual Art, Writers

British library sound archive

brown and black gramophone
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

While researching the specifics of early audio recordings for a short story I wrote a few months ago, I came across the Vernadsky library’s collection of sound archives in Kiev and it made me think of this different format of documents that – to a music lover and aurally-focused person such as myself – opens up a whole new world of fascinating historical materials. 

So I started digging around for other similar archival repositories of sound and found  the British Library sound archive in London.

It’s got one of the biggest collections of recorded sound in the world and includes music, spoken word, and ambient recordings as far back as 1905, mostly on metal cylinders. 

A digitizing project began in the 1990s, allowing much of the collection to now be electronically accessible.

The British Library sound archive’s collection of six million recordings come from BBC radio broadcasts and privately made recordings . They include first hand accounts of Holocaust survivors and of WW I vets held in German prisoner-of-war camps, soundscapes of street scenes including open markets from the Victorian era, the sound of a sail being hoisted on its mast on an early sailing ship, recordings of early folk and opera singing, writers – including an interview with Leo Tolstoy and other noteworthy writers – bird calls and wildlife recordings from many parts of the world, and UK dialects. 

In a nutshell – here are the classifications of different recordings available. I’ll delve into these more in the weeks to come. 

Classical music

Drama and literature 

Oral history

Popular music and jazz 

Radio recordings 

Spoken language and dialects 

Wildlife and other nature sounds 

World and traditional music

It makes me think of all the amazing ways these recordings could be used – in art and theatre projects to help set a scene. In academic investigations comparing the predominant sounds of yesteryear to those we hear today. And to hear – perhaps for the first time for contemporary audiences – the sound of birds and animals that have become extinct. 

Many of these archival clips and recordings are available online to the public and some can be imbedded into various kinds of documents, but there are others that are restricted to use by students and faculty of British universities that have subscribed to its collection. However – if you are in London – and go into the reading room, you can listen to almost anything in the collection. 

More in the coming weeks on use of this collection, restrictions, and a selection of recordings.