British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Historiography, Oral history, Record keeping, Vancouver history, Writers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

l


 

 

Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Dupont St, First Nations history, Historical documents, Historical research, Historiography, Oral history, Record keeping, Research, smallpox, Vancouver history

Smallpox in Vancouver in 1892

Vancouver’s first city archivist, Major James Skitt Matthews
who collected stories of early settlers
Photos is from the City of Vancouver Archives
Port P. 11.1

We know about the ravages of smallpox in the colonies of North America, and the devastation they brought to the First Nations communities here but lesser known is an outbreak that occurred in Vancouver in 1892.

Stories about the outbreak can be found within Early Vancouver, a 7-volume set of books filled with the documented interviews of early Vancouver settlers undertaken by the city’s first archivist Major James Skitt Matthews.

Early Vancouver  includes stories and first-hand accounts and details about early Vancouver people, places, businesses, and events, including a few stories about the smallpox outbreak here, in 1892.

I will write about some of the idiosyncracies of Early Vancouver (of which there are many) in a later post but for now, here are some stories I found about the 1892 smallpox outbreak. In them you will also find information about the volunteer fire brigade, Port Moody, Dupont St (now part of East Pender St.), prostitution, the character of various streets in the city at that time, and more.

From Early Vancouver Vol 1, p. 85 from Mrs. J.Z. Hall

” I think it must have been in 1892 that we had the smallpox scare in Vancouver. It was supposed to have come in by the “Empresses”[steamships] from the Orient (sic).”

“It was a terrible July; yellow flags were everywhere; no one who went through it will forget the scare we got. Houses were quarantined back and front—there was no getting out of them; people were quarantined all over the city. We lived on Nelson Street—I was Miss Greer then—Nelson Street was very sparsely settled, so was Robson Street, but there were cases on Robson Street. One young man, [who helped] Mr. Hanna, the undertaker, contracted the disease and died.”

“It was the custom to put those stricken in an express wagon, and with the driver ringing a bell to keep people away, warning them, the load of sick, frequently girls from Dupont Street, who had been visited by the sailors from the Empresses, would be driven down to the dock, and taken by boat to Deadman’s Island”

 

From Early Vancouver Vol 4, p 171, from A.W. Fraser

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

“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. 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.” 


Since 2011 Early Vancouver has been available  electronically, allowing for online searches.

I’ll write more about Major Matthews and about Early Vancouver in the weeks to come

Archives, Audio archives, England, Great Britain, Historical documents, Oral history, recording technology, women's history

Early Spoken word recordings

brown and black gramophone
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Have you ever wondered how Christabel Pankhurst sounded when rousing women to fight for the right to vote? Or Aga Khan III speaking to Muslim people? Or the Queen mom as a young woman exhorting the women of England to be brave during war? How about Robert Baden Powell, speaking to young boyscouts in the early 20th century?

We can easily find material to read about these people and what they stood for. But it is rare to actually hear their voices and hear their passion and personality come through in speech.

The British Library Sound archive holds recordings of various public figures including these and many more, most of them recorded before the advent of long-playing records and tapes.

They are recordings of speeches and messages addressed to the British parliament or the public at various events.

The library warns users to be aware that the recordings are historical documents and that language, tone and content could be offensive to  present-day listeners

Archives, Audio archives, England, Great Britain, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Music, Oral history, Research, Scotland

Children’s games and songs

Another interesting collection within the British library’s sound archive are recordings of childrens’ games and songs made by Iona Opie and her husband Peter between 1969 and 1983, the Opie collection.

The Opie’s dedicated their working lives to the documentation of children’s play, folklore, language and literature.

They also published several influential works, most notably The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959).

Recordings are searchable by British county using an alphabetical drop-down menu, or by the name of the interviewer or interviewee.

 

 

Archives, Audio archives, Cornwall, England, Great Britain, Historical novel, Historical research, Oral history, Research, Scotland, Sound effects, Writers, Yorkshire

A snapshot of words and phrases

More from the British Library Sound Archives that I wrote about in last week’s blog post.

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. 

 

four women chatting while sitting on bench
Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

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. 

 

More about the audio libary holdings next time.

 

Archives, Audio archives, England, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Music, Oral history, Paintings, Research, Sound effects, Street sounds, Theatre, Visual Art, Writers

British library sound archive

brown and black gramophone
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

While researching the specifics of early audio recordings for a short story I wrote a few months ago, I came across the Vernadsky library’s collection of sound archives in Kiev and it made me think of this different format of documents that – to a music lover and aurally-focused person such as myself – opens up a whole new world of fascinating historical materials. 

So I started digging around for other similar archival repositories of sound and found  the British Library sound archive in London.

It’s got one of the biggest collections of recorded sound in the world and includes music, spoken word, and ambient recordings as far back as 1905, mostly on metal cylinders. 

A digitizing project began in the 1990s, allowing much of the collection to now be electronically accessible.

The British Library sound archive’s collection of six million recordings come from BBC radio broadcasts and privately made recordings . They include first hand accounts of Holocaust survivors and of WW I vets held in German prisoner-of-war camps, soundscapes of street scenes including open markets from the Victorian era, the sound of a sail being hoisted on its mast on an early sailing ship, recordings of early folk and opera singing, writers – including an interview with Leo Tolstoy and other noteworthy writers – bird calls and wildlife recordings from many parts of the world, and UK dialects. 

In a nutshell – here are the classifications of different recordings available. I’ll delve into these more in the weeks to come. 

Classical music

Drama and literature 

Oral history

Popular music and jazz 

Radio recordings 

Spoken language and dialects 

Wildlife and other nature sounds 

World and traditional music

It makes me think of all the amazing ways these recordings could be used – in art and theatre projects to help set a scene. In academic investigations comparing the predominant sounds of yesteryear to those we hear today. And to hear – perhaps for the first time for contemporary audiences – the sound of birds and animals that have become extinct. 

Many of these archival clips and recordings are available online to the public and some can be imbedded into various kinds of documents, but there are others that are restricted to use by students and faculty of British universities that have subscribed to its collection. However – if you are in London – and go into the reading room, you can listen to almost anything in the collection. 

More in the coming weeks on use of this collection, restrictions, and a selection of recordings.