British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical novel, Historical photos, Historical research, Historiography, Labour history, Local heros, Research, social history, Women, women's history

Professor Lara Campbell speaking this Thursday night on zoom about The Campaign for White Woman Suffrage in BC

One of Vancouver’s most vocal and powerful advocates for labour rights and women was Helena Gutteridge, a tailor, who came to Vancouver in September 1911.

She arrived a few months too late to attend a Woman Suffrage Convention held in the city chaired by then-Mayor Taylor. But soon after, she was instrumental in the BC Suffrage League, one of the local suffrage groups affiliated with organized labour.

Helena Gutteridge speaking at a labour rally in Vancouver, 1938
Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library – Accession Number: 13333

Here, as elsewhere, groups and individuals organizing for women’s rights was like a moving kaleidoscope of collaboration, re-branding, and class distinctions.

I am loath to go into too much more detail as the history of the suffrage movement is complex but here are some bits and pieces to consider.

Some suffrage groups worked with labour. Others with temperance activists. Others folded at the start of World War I so as not to detract from the war effort.

Different jurisdictions and levels of government introduced women suffrage in different years, with a series of legislation that were passed and reversed over about thirty years.

Interestingly Vancouver has unique legal rights in the province including those pertaining to woman suffrage at the municipal level. Our legal rights are governed under the Vancouver Charter as opposed to the Municipal Act which governs other cities in the province.

In the 1910 municipal election, all white married women who owned property were eligible to the vote, a by-law passed under Mayor Taylor’s progressive influence. But the same right wasn’t extended at the provincial and federal level until later. The suffrage battles at those levels were carried out by different players under different circumstances and resulting in different dates when the franchise was extended to white women.

And to be clear, the early 20th century suffrage movements were led by and intended for extension of the franchise to white women – and did not address the lack of voting rights of First Nations people, Asians, and some others – both men and women.

The BC Political Equality League (PEL) was formed in January 1911 and later that year began to hold meetings in homes, almost daily, to acquaint women with their newly acquired civic voting rights, and to persuade them to register to vote in the upcoming election. 

The Mount Pleasant Suffrage League also existed but I haven’t been able to find out much about it other than when and where it met. A couple of the characters from my novel live in Mount Pleasant and will attend these meetings but so far, I can only surmise the content of their meetings, given the working class character of the neighbourhood and the paltry reporting of women’s political issues.

As with so much of women’s historical research, records are spotty. Reports of meetings and actions were considered un-newsworthy by the mainstream press and the retention of records was considered of lesser importance than those of men’s activities.  

I hope to learn more next Thursday night (May 28), when the Vancouver Historical Society will welcome SFU Professor Lara Campbell, who’ll be speaking about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Vancouver. 

The VHS meetings are currently being held by zoom so please see details in the link to gain access. 

Artists, Environmental history, Historical photos, Historical research, Industrial research, Musqueam nation, Squamish nation, Vancouver history, Writers

Flora and Fauna in bygone eras – aka Native Plants

Yarrow – a native plant in BC
Image by Willfried Wende from Pixabay

I was in a conversation with a few writers of historical fiction earlier this week and the subject of the appropriate flowers in bloom at a given time of year and a given location was raised. 

This is a tricky issue that I have spent a lot of time thinking about and researching myself as I work on my own novel set in Vancouver 1884-1913. 

It’s tempting to think about the flowers and plants that currently exist in the place where your story is set. However, many of those trees and plants could well have been introduced to your location at a later date and not be historically accurate in a different era.

The past can be as much a different place as any foreign site halfway across the world.

Fortunately for me, my story is set in the city where I live, Vancouver, BC. so it is easier for me to know what exists today or at least find sources to educate me, and to use this information as a starting point. For example, many of our city streets are currently resplendent with  Japanese cherry tree and plum trees now in blossom, adding beauty and colour, and a general feeling of cheerfulness and whimsy.  But I’m sure these trees are not native to this region, but were introduced, as were many flowers, largely to replicate the classic English gardens that settlers established in their yards in a kind of sentimental gesture. Roses, lavender, and peonies come to mind.

Which eliminates one problem but presents another.

How do you find out what plants were native to a particular place?

To go back in time and learn what existed in earlier periods I have found that First Nations (aka Native, Aboriginal, Indian) sources of knowledge to be the best and most accurate, as well as being more comprehensive, encompassing medicinal, nutritional, and tool-making elements that are fascinating to learn about and possibly incorporate into our own daily lives, if not into our writing and other creative work. 

We are fortunate here in B.C. in that our First Nation people are strong and have retained more of their culture than in other parts of the country and possibly even other parts of the world, and so there are sources of native plant and animal information quite readily available.

Human knowledge, medicinal plant walks, books, blogs, and websites from First Nations organizations are all rich sources to tap for authentic historical plant and wildlife information.

And the settler community has finally begun to recognize and acknowledge that knowledge and the value that natural diversity and reclamation holds for environmental health and longevity.

For example, last week I biked by New Brighton park in east Vancouver and came across a reclamation site where native plants are being re-introduced on that part of the waterfront.

Posted information taught me about the native plants in that original marshland region, indicating what grew at different times of the year and also showing me the kind of landscape that had been overtaken by urban development founded on settler values .

Reading more about it after I’d gotten back home I discovered that the New Brighton project is also connected to another local reclamation project in Hastings Park called the Sanctuary which also features native plants and educational information.

And this got me thinking about the locations of additional sources of information regarding native plants and animals.

Great Camas
Photo by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

Walking tours of native plants and medicinal plants could exist in your jurisdiction. I know of at least two people who lead those here in Vancouver. 

And I just tried to find some information about a Vancouver tree inventory – I was sure I’d seen one somewhere but haven’t come across it again. So I did a search for one in Seattle which has a similar climate and geography as Vancouver, another research tip you can use if local sources don’t exist. For this search I found the Washington Native Plants Society site.

I also found this native plants page on a local landscaping firm, Fontana Water Features

The local non-profit society, False Creek Watershed Society and other similar watershed societies can also provide valuable information and contact with knowledgeable sources. I will explore and share some of the False Creek Watershed Society resources in the weeks to come.

Be sure to also search through municipal, regional, or provincial or federal park websites, educational institutions, and organization websites, blogs, and books on the same subject matter. Additional resources could also be found under anthropological records in museums, archives, and libraries. 

When carrying out research, be sure to use the various search terms for First Nations, including “native”, “Indian” “indigenous”   and any other local term in currency in your region.

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.

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British Columbia history, First Nations history, Historical photos, HIV/AIDS, Photos, social history, Stonewall Festival, Vancouver AIDS Memorial, Vancouver arts and culture, Vancouver history, Vancouver Pride Festival, Victoria, Victoria Pride Festival, women's history

Vancouver Gay and Lesbian History Photo Identification

Fantasy and Freedom, Diana Rose does Diana Ross (1990’s).
Reference code: AM1675-S4-F15-: 2018-020.3712

The City of Vancouver Archives is asking for help from the public to identify a thousand images it has received that document the gay, lesbian andLGBTQ2+ history of BC.

The full collection of more than 7000 pictures date from as early as the 1890’s up to 2014 and includes:

  • local theatre
  • comedy
  • dance
  • artists
  • politicians
  • female impersonation
  • Stonewall Festival
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Vancouver Aids Memorial
  • Vancouver Gay and Lesbian Community Centre
  • First Nations
  • Vancouver Pride Festival

If you were in Vancouver and active in the gay and lesbian community back to the 1940s, or know anyone who was, consider going down to this event, next Saturday, Oct 26, 1-5 pm to help identify people and events in the city’s gay and lesbian history. It’ll be at the Sun Gallery, Suite 425- 228 Keefer St

Or visit the City of Vancouver Archives in Vanier Park to access these materials or go to help with their identification project. Might be a good idea to call ahead so that an archivist will be available to help, 604-736-8561.

Archives, Cellulose acetate, Copyright, Historical photos, Historical research, Photo processing, Photos, Preservation, Research, Vancouver history

Update on Don Coltman photo preservation project at the City of Vancouver Archives

Scene at Vancouver Yacht Club, circa 1945
by Don Coltman
Reference code: AM1545-S3-: CVA 586-6176

It’s been many months now since the City of Vancouver Archives has completed its project to digitize more than 5000 photos taken by early Vancouver photographer, Don Coltman that I first wrote about in a post last February.

The Coltman collection offers a rich selection of Vancouver and Lower Mainland scenes from post-WW II and includes such subjects as:

  • B.C. industries and small businesses such as canneries, ports, sawmills, fishing, pulp and paper making and manufacturing
  • Community activities, fashion, businesses, events, sports activities, factories and production
  • Vancouver parks, bridges, beaches, streets, buildings, schools, shipyard and dock
  • Portraiture including weddings, families and local employees.

All photos are in the public domain and have been uploaded to the Archives online database with accompanying descriptions.