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.
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.
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)
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.
“Those in the know were in a position to act on their information; others could only guess at what was going on” from G.W.A. Brooks M.A thesis in HIstory, April 1976
I’ve been trying to get my head around the back room deals and characters who were buying huge chunks of land as early as the 1870s in the area that later became Vancouver .
Anticipating that the national railroad, promised to British Columbia as an incentive to join Confederation would terminate here, a syndicate of politicians and businessmen began speculating on land in the undeveloped area that would later become Vancouver, ultimately reaping them millions in real estate transactions.
But they first had to use their financial connections and instigate some political manoeuvering to rig it so that Vancouver and not Port Moody became the ultimate winner of that real estate sweepstake.
Who were these people and how did they know or at least strongly influence the selection of Vancouver as the terminus?
They were government officials, including then Premier William Smithe, Dr Israel Powell, Laughlin Hamilton, and others, and businessmen George Campbell, Richard Alexander, Edward Heatley, John Robson, David and Isaac Oppenheimer and others after which many of the streets in the oldest part of Vancouver are named.
And they quietly split up large swaths of land here as early as the late 1870s, even though approval for construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the CPR, didn’t even receive royal assent until 1881. And then they offered pieces of their cheaply bought (stolen) land to the CPR in exchange.
These guys were business partners and buddies, mostly operating between Victoria, New Westminster, London England, and San Francisco, with a few ambitious early arrivals based in Granville (later Vancouver), Hastings Townsite, and Yale.
They hung out socially too with dinners and arranged marriages between the various families; and whist and poker games that frequently went on until 3 in the morning.
Officially, Port Moody was designated as the railroad terminus in 1884, but this political and economic syndicate had the connections to lure the railroad further west, to Vancouver, and were motivated to do it because they knew that their properties would skyrocket in value and make them all filthy rich.
So while the “man on the street” was distracted by the excitement generated by the Port Moody terminus announcement, men working at the Hastings Sawmill in Granville (later Vancouver) just kept drinking and gambling, and generally not paying much attention to anything but their bodily needs and trying to survive the boredom of life in the milltown.
In the end, the CPR garnered more than 6000 acres of property here in exchange for making Vancouver the railroad terminus, becoming the largest landowner in areas of the city that later became the West End, Shaughnessy, Coal Harbour, and Fairview.
The novel I’m writing, begins in 1880s Vancouver, and already encompasses land and property issues, including First Nations land grabs by settlers, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of touching on this scandal too, part of the bigger picture of Vancouver real estate speculation and corruption.
I’ve been trying to pin down some details – gritty stories and actual day-in-the-life specifics of a young seaman working on a sailboat in the late 1800s – what they ate, what work they did, where they slept, what they did in the lulls and anything about pets or children onboard.
But I’d been having trouble finding much that was useful. I did keyword searches on the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) using the terms sailing and sailboat and history and “daily life” and came up with a lot of current information about how to sail, where to sail, and contemporary sailboats in general with a bit of historical information thrown in about the heyday of sailing and the advent of steamships in the late 1800s, but still not finding quite what I was looking for.
When you’re doing historical research in particular you may need to think about some older and even antiquated terms for the activity or concept you’re searching for, though I had a similar challenge trying to come up with just the right search term when carrying out research on a (current) aspect of environmental science as well.
Finding the right term is like finding the right key to the lock and is sometimes the first step in finding useful material. Try turning phrases around in your head us, brainstorming different terminology for your subject, and trying this keyword-to subject-heading research in order to come up with the right term that will bring you success.
Before Google and keywords changed the world of online searching in the late 1990s libraries catalogued material using a thesaurus to ensure that all librarians were using consistent terms for classifying books and related material in different formats.
This meant that when terminology migrated (from ecology to envirormentalism for example) related material would still fall under the same classification heading and researchers wouldn’t have to look up multiple terms for the same thing.
Subject headings originate in the classification thesaurus used by libraries (usually Dewey or Library of Congress) and follow a rigid format as you’ll see from my research example, below.
But now, when you’re carrying out research, you can use a combination of keyword searching and the more traditional subject classification searching to pinpoint more specific or obscure information. The subject classification will encompass books and other resources that use terms you might not think of.
For example in my research on the daily life and conditions of sailors in the 19th century I did the following keyword searches.
I then chose a book from my results and scrolled down to find the library subject headings under which it was classified. On the Vancouver Public Library site, subject headings appear on the far right, a little down from the book title, and are hyperlinked.
Using the keyword “Sailing” gave the Subject heading of “Sailing”
Using the keywords “Sailing history” gave the Subject heading of “Sailing ships pictorial works”
So I clicked on “Sailing ships pictorial works” to see what other books have been put into that classification, but they were mostly about yaching and racing, neither of which I was interested in.
So I tried another tack (pardon the pun)!
Using the keywords “sailing daily life” – gave me no results
Using the keyword “sailors – pictorial works” brought up books with photos of sailors, a few novels, and some analysis of gender issues among sailors.
Finally I remembered the word ‘seafaring” and once I entered that term I hit paydirt because suddenly there was a plethora of books on the daily life of a sailor aboard a sailing ship in the 1800s, from the work they carried out in stormy weather, in port, and while in the calm waters, the doldrums of southern South America, near the Magellan Strait, to the fo’cs’le where they lived and slept, to the food they ate.
So if you aren’t finding the material you need, try thos little librarian trick of starting with keywords and then looking at subject headings of books that come up in the results that yield other sources on the subject you’re looking for.
Of course you can always ask a librarian for help. They will probe you for specifics and relevant terminology in this same way as I’ve just explained, but it’s always heavenly to have someone else to work on it with.
Don’t resort to being a mere mortal and thinking you can do everything yourself because it will save you a lot of time and frustration to use the professionals who know these things and more, so well.
“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.
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.
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.
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.