Historical novel, Historical research, Historiography, Industrial revolution, Library, Renaissance, Research, Research Tip, Victorian Era, Women, women's history

Curses Indeed!

Featuring The Encyclopedia of Swearing

Annie – my protagonist

It’s great when you’re writing and come up with just the right word or expression.

And being historically accurate makes your work more authoritative and trustworthy.

While working on my historical novel, set in 1800s Vancouver, I needed to find a few accurate expletives to come out of my protagonist, Annie’s mouth. She’s a factory girl and not shy about expressing her opinions!

I still haven’t found exactly what I’m looking for – namely – something like, “damn it” (or preferably stronger) – an expletive for her to say when something falls on her foot. Feel free to suggest something in the comments please!

I did a quick internet search and got a few ideas and then went onto our local library catalogue and found this amazing resource.

It’s called An Encyclopedia of Swearing: The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-Speaking World, by M.E. Sharpe

At the Vancouver Public Library (VPL), it’s an e-pub found by a catalogue search and available only to VPL library card holders. Call a librarian if you don’t find it in your own local library. It may be accessible differently than it is here.

I couldn’t see how to find an answer my question (the curse following the thing falling on her foot), but while scrolling around and trying out different things I tried out a search on the word “prostitute”.

Along with some historical and literary references, and bibliographic references, I got this list of words spanning the years 1100-2000.

1100whore
1200
1300strumpet, concubine, quean, common woman
1400harlot, slut, filth, mistress
1500drab, trull, mutton, cat, doxy
1600prostitute, moll, punk, doll, jade, hussy, trollop, gypsy, slattern
1700biddy, conveniency, bunter
1800fallen woman, hooker, blowen, streetwalker
1900broad, call girl, call boy, tramp, tart, lady of the night, hustler, slag
2000escort, sex worker

A few other terms in the table of contents of this encyclopedia include:

  • expletives – homosexuals 
  • ethnic slurs
  • etymology
  • piss
  • punk
  • shrew
  • soldiers and sailors slang
  • shit words
  • turd
  • twat 

and more….

There are entries for a few regional terms, including Scots, South African,and probably some more

And entries for a few historical periods including Renaissance and Victorian, and probably some more

Use the table of contents or do a search.

Just be careful if you do a search that you use the correct search field labed, “search within this publication”. Otherwise your search will bring up results from all the Gale online publications held by your library.

Another option is to use the “advanced search”

  • Enter “prostitution” as a keyword
  • Scroll down and enter the name of the publication
  • I entered “encyclopedia of swearing” and the full title was auto-filled
  • Scroll down
  • Press, search

I noticed that not every term gives a nice date-line table like the one that showed up on my search for Prostitute.


You can save your results on Google Drive, Cloud, and other platforms.


For academic works there are also options to put the citations into whatever citation protocol you’re using.

Archive Angel
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.

Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Industrial research, Labour history, Research, social history, Vancouver history

BC Federationist Newspaper – early 1900’s

The late 19th century and early decades of the 20th century was a golden age of working class newspapers across North America.

Labour newspapers were launched across the continent to give news of workers’ actions and positions, a perspective largely absent from mainstream news reporting then and now.

The British Columbia Federationist was one of these early labour newspapers. Originally issued as the Western Wage Earner, it was owned and operated by the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council (VTLC) that, at the time. was affiliated with 52 unions, representing 8000 (mostly male?) wage earners across the province.

Its motto was “The Unity of Labour; The Hope of the World” and its mandate was “to seek to reflect and voice the needs of organized labour”.

First issue of the BC Federationist
Nov 4, 1911
previously the Western Wage Earner
later the BC Labour News

Edited by Parm Pettipiece, a leading socialist, the BC Federationist was published twice a month following VTLC meetings, and reported on its work, its decisions, and priorities. The paper also included reports from provincial unions generally, and on strikes and job actions in the province as well as Canadian Trades and Labour Congress Reports, and national and American labour news.

Each issue of the Federatist also included a directory of provincial unions and listed the officers and location of each member union, and the day, time, and location of their meetings.

Many of the unions represented in the Federationist are still in existence today, but others, like the ones listed below, are vestiges of a different era.

  • Waiters’ Union
  • Cigarmakers’ Union
  • Bartenders Union
  • Street and Electric Railway Union
  • Paper Hangers and Decorators Union

Newspaper names and runs are notoriously difficult to pinpoint but from my preliminary research it seems like it ran until 1916 and later resurfaced as the BC Labour News in 1921.

The BC Federationist is a valuable resource, and, along with the Canadian Labour Gazette gives a rich snapshot of working class life and issues – a perspective that is generally under-represented in mainstream archival records.

British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Historiography, Oral history, Record keeping, Vancouver history, Writers

The rich warehouse of stories in Early Vancouver

Vancouver’s First Archivist (self-proclaimed)
Major J.S. Matthews
CVA Port P. 11.1

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a smallpox outbreak in Vancouver in 1892, with quotes from Early Vancouver – a seven-volume set of books based on interviews with settlers undertaken by James Skitt Matthews, Vancouver’s first archivist.

“Major Matthews” – or simply “The Major” as he still is called in local archival circles, claimed the position of city archivist for himself in the 1930’s even though he was not at the time employed by the City of Vancouver.

The volumes of Early Vancouver contain information on a vast range of topics from city halls, to Hotel Vancouver construction, the fire of 1886, trees, streets, hockey teams, and Dominion Day (now Canada Day) celebrations through story, photos, drawings, and maps – frequently accompanied by notes and commentary from Major Matthews.

There is a wealth of raw information woven into the stories depending on what the witness noticed, cared about, or thought was important. Sometimes you only get teasers about a subject because conversations veer off in other directions following the interviewee’s train of thought, making the exact meaning, timing, or relationships mentioned in a transcript unclear.

For example, here’s an account of the 1892 smallpox outbreak by early Vancouver Alderman W.H. Gallagher. In its essence, the story reveals the sense of panic and actions taken by the citizens of the city and its nascent civic administration to make sure noone with smallpox landed in Vancouver, but Gallagher also makes mention of the police and fire department at the time, as well, incidentally, about there being no road to Port Moody at the time.

“I saw the trouble the time the Premier [a steamship] 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; afterwards the Charmer, and the Premier was an American ship; flew the American flag, and had been down at Seattle and of course, when she came in 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.”

Major Matthews: Who started the fun?

Mr. Fraser: “The Premier. 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.

Vancouver Fire Brigade outside Fire Hall #1 (Water Street)
1895
CVA AM54-S4-: FD P41

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.”

Early Vancouver contains a lot of rich raw information but be aware that much of it needs to be untangled and cross-referenced  in order for it to be comprehendible.

Still the stories give a feeling for the subject at hand,  and the anecdotes suggest countless embryonic story ideas.

And now, since 2011, the 7-volume set is available electronically  in 2011.  Before that, researchers had to go in to the Archives to look at the print editions, consulting  each volume’s index individually.

Now you can search across all seven volumes  at once, or limit your search to a specific volume.

For keyword searches, use quotation marks for phrases.

Or use the advanced search page to do a Boolean-like search using the Ultraseek search engine over multiple fields (body, title, link etc) and by date.

Enjoy perusing this fascinating resource – as much a product of the time Major Matthews collected the stories as the actual information they convey. 

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