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. 

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 research, Labour history, Local heros, Research, social history, Vancouver history

RIP – Professor Robert A.J. McDonald

Another sad loss in the local historical community this year was Professor Robert (Bob) A.J McDonald who died June 19, 2019

Photo by  Kellan Higgins

I met Bob while I worked at the City of Vancouver Archives in the 1990s while he was researching his book, Making Vancouver – Class, Status, and Social Boundaries – 1863-1913, a comprehensive social history of Vancouver’s development

He was always available and encouraging of the various historical projects I was working on including my tenure as president of the Vancouver Historical Society in the late 1990s. And one year, on International Women’s Day (IWD) he brought in an IWD button that he’d gotten in England many years before – an artifact!

Once, when my children were very young and I didn’t seem to get out much I ran into him on the street. The first thing he asked me was what (historical) project I was working on.

Bob was a great guy and as sad as his memorial service was it was also a beautiful tribute to his time with us on earth and I realized how many people he touched deeply. He led a rich life and contributed so much to our local historical knowledge – a local hero.

I’m sure he’s up here in Heaven now!

Here’s his obituary from the Legacy website, and another from the BC Historical Federation

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.