British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical novel, Historical photos, Research, Telephone operators, Vancouver history, Women, women's history

Vancouver Telephone Operator’s Strike of 1902

Image courtesy of MontanaWomensHistory.org

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.

I

British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical novel, Historical research, Research, social history, Vancouver history, Women, women's history

A blizzard in Vancouver, 1911 – Annie stranded in the West End

Wet and heavy, the snow we get in Vancouver paralyzes the city for days to the delight of skiers and children.  But for those who have to get to work or have no choice but to get somewhere, the snow can wreak havoc to their plans. Even public transit buses get stuck in the snow and city crews are kept busy clearing streets and putting up barricades to keep traffic off the steepest hills.

I wanted to find out about a real-life snowstorm in Vancouver- the likes of which we are familiar with here – for a scene in my story, in either 1911 or 1912  I wanted my protagonist,  Annie to be stuck in her west-end home, alone and lonely with lots of time on her hands to think about something that was bothering her.

The Canadian government has weather records as far back as 1898, and, fortunately for me, there were records for Vancouver back to 1911. 

I went  through a few months when we generally have blizzards here in Vancouver, and identified a run of three days in  November 1911 when the snow did not stop falling.  This fit in perfectly with the scene I was working on and helped me pin down the next series of events in the story with historical accuracy.

Yipee!  I’ve been trying for as much authentic historical accuracy as possible, but at times have had to fudge a few dates to fit the storyline, and create wholly fictionalized characters where I cannot accurately portray  a real-life person from our city’s past.

At the same time, I’m trying to follow Jack Bickham’s advice from his book on Scenes and Settings about the importance of getting local facts right, including weather.

Originally I was going to assume sometime in November or December of either 1911 or 1912 for this scene, (because I wanted it to be before Christmas) and just pick a random date but Jack Bickham convinced me to make the extra effort to track down accurate local weather conditions for added authenticity.

The federal government weather statistics that exist cover average and extreme temperature ranges, rain, snow, and total precipitation, and wind gusts, by month and by specific day of the month.  Plus more, no doubt, that I haven’t looked into. It’s fun to look at even if you don’t have a specific research project in mind.

British Columbia history, Canada history, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), Environmental history, First Nations history, Historical documents, Historical novel, Historical photos, Historical research, Historiography, Port Moody, Research, Vancouver history

Canadian Environmental history timeline

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

This week’s climate strikes, coinciding with the United Nations Climate Action Summit , brought more than 80,000 people out to the streets in Vancouver alone, according to the Candian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

So in celebration and solidarity, I thought I’d share this environmental history timeline from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

It is a great start to some painstaking documentation that we need about this grass-roots movement.

But there are many more events, movements, legislation (and catastrophes) – like the Mount Polley mining disaster, that should also be included in this timeline.

The environmental movement has many tentacles and has traditionally had limited access to the powerful media outlets and industry-affiliated lobbying interests that, generally, are working against it.

 Vancouver has a long tradition of environmental activism and is the birthplace of Greenpeace, the Suzuki Foundation, SPEC (Society for the Preservation) and probably more innovative environmental organizations – and those are only the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

If you think this is the kind of project you would be interested in, the encyclopedia is always looking for contributors so get in touch with them here if you think you can help make this timeline more complete.

I have one that I’ve been creating for a couple of years that is a general – mostly British Columbia historical timeline, with fictionalized dates and events pertaining to my novel, interspersed.

And I’ve created another one to help me understand the timing and details of First Nations land grabs within the city of Vancouver that covers over a hundred years.

And finally, I’ve created a shorter one to help me understand the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) controversy over the location of the terminus of the transnational railroad that occurred in the 1870s and 80s.

Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Chinese Canadian history, Historical documents, Historical research, Microform research, Newspaper research, Vancouver history, Writers

Vancouver Sun newspapers online 1912-2018 FREE for in-house use at the VPL (Vancouver Public Libray)

Last week I reported that the Vancouver Sun newspaper is now searchable online within the Ancestry digital resource of the VPL for the date range 1912-2018.

folded newspapers
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This way to search will shave hours off your research time plus give you easy access to news stories that might whet your appetite and inspire you to to write a story, make a movie, paint a picture, or just have fun exploring the antics you humans get into.

It sure beats locating, loading, scrolling, and unloading rolls of microfilm that can eat up lots of time with sometimes negligible results.

This new database allows you to search by keyword, title, news-reporter, or date and to narrow it by country, province, city, and individual newspaper – of which there are hundreds.

If you’re looking for stories from the Vancouver Sun specifically you’ll need to narrow your search by choosing country (Canada); province (British Columbia); city (Vancouver); and finally, newspaper (Vancouver Sun).

Or you search within one  entire newspaper from one a particular day or date-range, or by date-range followed by keyword search within that range.

You can also select any number of newspapers to do a simultaneous search in multiple newspapers anytime or for a specific date-range.

Like any kind of searchable database, there are usually multiple ways to search and you’ll probably find your favourite if you do enough searches and within a short enough  period of time to get it into your head.

I always find it easiest to have a search in mind before I go through a new database. It makes it less vague and probably more useful in the long-run. Here are my steps:

  • Go through each tab on the database’s interface page (what you see on your screen which is a user-friendly rendition of the back-end of the database) and see what options they provide; also any sidebars
  • Keep track of how I do my searches, making hand-written notes on a sheet of paper at each step so I don’t get lost or forget what I’ve done
  • Assess the value of those steps for the type of search I’m doing and adjust/go back/keep as appropriate.

It’s sometimes tempting to get lots of results but if 99% of them are no good you just end up spending time combing through and eliminating them.  Better to get fewer, more specific results than hundreds of useless ones.

Unless you’re just browsing for ideas …….

I did a search for a column I wrote for the Sun  in 1997 which I’d couldn’t find in my paper files anymore.  First I narrowed my search to the Vancouver Sun, then to the date I knew it was published, and finally I did a keyword search within those parameters, and it came up nice ‘n easy.

I’ve just added it to my “Clippings” file that is part of the Ancestry site you might find useful.

If you want to try out online searches from your home or office there is a 7-day free trial after which you have to start paying $74.90 for six months, unless you cancel your free trial before it ends.  So write on your calendar when you need to cancel the free trial if you don’t want to be charged. This is the only way to access it from home after your free trial ends.

But if you can get into any branch  of the Vancouver Public Library, you can get free access to it through the Ancestor digital resource.  Check with a librarian for any help getting into it.

I imagine it’s the same with most public libraries but call your first to be sure.

And would you leave a comment if you get free access to it at another library or your experience using this resource so we can all learn?

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

Archives, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Historiography, military history, Record keeping, Remembrance Day, social history, Women, women's history

Trying to study war no more

chessmen

 

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One – the so-called war to end all wars. A senseless slaughter of young men on both sides, sent to fight from muddy, disease-ridden trenches, and told to wipe the memory from their minds after peace was declared and move on.

Yet the physical and emotional trauma those soldiers suffered followed them home after the armistice.  Many ended up in insane asylums or became burdens to their families for the rest of their lives, shunted off to a back room in the family home plagued by nightmares or strange mutterings, or drunkenness.  Even those who seemed to be doing alright walked the streets at night, unable to sleep because of their nightmares.

Broken lives. What we’d now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But those soldiers were told basically, to suck it up and forget their experience of war, and move on.

When I worked at the City of Vancouver archives, I got researchers looking into all kinds of things. Military units and people prominent in the armed forces. Evidence of women’s political groups or agencies or information about those working for suffrage, women’s rights, and equal pay.

And though there were a few documents scattered throughout the collection documenting  the issues or the people working for political and social justice, there were plenty of documents about the military and their people.

I encouraged those who wanted to unearth records about progressive history to look at what we had and try to read between the lines as to what wasn’t there or what was on the other side of the mirror. But that kind of research is harder and takes longer to do.

And often, these researchers were so discouraged by the lack of information about progressive movements that they resorted to the easy-pickings; the men, military, and marine records that have traditionally been abundant in archives. And the result?

The war records get used and studied and written about again and again.

And the documents kept coming in. Old women came to the archives from time to time, proudly carrying their brothers’ or father’s, or uncle’s, or husband’s personal records or war mementos, and offering them to our collection.

Yet they seldom brought in anything that would memorialize their own life’s work or passions. And when I’d ask them, they’d became self-deprecating, shake their heads and deny that they had ever done anything of lasting value.

Generally it takes a certain kind person or a certain kind of organization that, dare I say, has enough of an ego to think their actions and the documents that record them have historical value and relevance. And then think about bringing them into an archive to be preserved and made available to future historians.

Altogether, this makes it easy to see why many archival records are of a conservative nature. They’re more accessible, follow a familiar and logical organizational scheme, and pertain to institutions, organizations, and people who have access to funds and political power.

And that makes them easier to access and get funding to research and commemorate as well.

It’s a bit of a vicious circle.