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.

Canada history, Historical research, Industrial research, Labour history, Library, Research

Strikes, wages, and the cigar-making industry

One of the most valuable resources on trades and labour issues, including strkes is the Labour Gazette, produced by the Canadian government 1900-1978.

a page from the 1901 Labour Gazette with statistical table for the Cigarmaking industry in Canada, showing wages for men/women in the different areas of production (box makers, strippers, rollers, packers, and foremen

The federal Department of Labour (now Labour and Social Development Canada). was initiated by the Conciliation Act of 1900. The department’s mandate was to prevent and settle trade disputes and to publish accurate and statistical industrial information about conditions in Canadian industry and labour.  

The department published the Labour Gazette, a monthly publication which began September 1900, following the same content and format of gazettes used in Britain and other commonwealth countries at the same time. 

Local correspondents collected data and reported monthly on a wide range of labour and industry related events and evolving trends and statistics.

The Labour Gazette contains:

  • Reports from local correspondents on industry composition (gender, wage, productivity, and more) in cities and regions of the country
  • Reports from different industries (cigar-making, coal, fishing, farming, building trades and more)
  • Government contracts
  • Stats
  • Department of Labour reports
  • Immigration reports
  • Lock-outs, strikes and other labour disputes
  • Cost of living reports
  • Lists of trade unions founded in the year of publication
  • Wage rates by industry
  • Lists of trade unions founded in the year of publication
  • Decisions on worker compensation claims
  • Relevant provincial legislation in the year of publication

It’s an immensely rich resource and can give you ideas for writing or other creative work grounded in history, or to allow you to create acccurate portrayals of working people at the time.

Each annual edition is made up of 12 bound reports with one comprehensive index at the very front.

The Vancouver Public Library has the Labour Gazette in an incomplete run spanning the years 1900-1942. They are located in the Business section of the library in compact shelving. The location can be confusing and access may require assistance from a librarian so be sure to ask for help. 

Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa has the complete run of Labour Gazettes, but not in electronic format.