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Beauty of artwork – in more ways than one

Vancouver historical image
Edward Roper painting of Burrard Inlet, circa 188_. Property of the City of Vancouver Archives

I can’t tell you enough how much I love looking at old paintings and photos of a place, not only for the artistic pleasure they give but, from a historical research perspective, for the detail they convey.

Take this painting of the early Vancouver waterfront by Edward Roper, for example. It shows people working – from what I can tell possibly some Squamish people hauling boats onshore, a couple of Chinese men, and others at the waterfront.  It gives me a strong image from that very time, from the perspective of an astute observer.

And even thought the complete image is undoubtedly contrived, there is a lot here to feed my imagination and fuel the creative process for the novel I’m writing set in Vancouver beginning in the 1880s.

Whereas many photos of the times are of people of prominence or group shots of factory workers or picnic groups, there is a lot of historical artwork that shows everyday people doing ordinary, everyday things.

Clothing, attitude, work being carried out, tools, scenery, and more can be conveyed in a single painting that could take a long time to discern through written records or be difficult to set up in a photograph.

Yet, along with historical photos, they are a rich resource for any creative or documentary research you may want to do. They are further different from photos, however, in that an artist can add in details that might not be present or apparent from a photo.

Check your local archival repositories, art galleries, and museums for any local historical paintings they might have in their collection.  Even though, in some cases, the artwork itself may not be very good, drawings and paintings will give you a “snapshot” impression of a place that may be just enough for you to imagine your own creative work emanating from it.

Enjoy!

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The Imperial Automatic Voting Machine Company

space contraption
Artist: Chanut is Industries License: CC Attribution 3.0 Unported

 

In Vancouver in 1903, a company called The Imperial Automatic Voting Machine Company was looking for investors to raise 250 thousand dollars, issuing shares for a dollar each.

The mood in Vancouver was ecstatic that year following the depression of the 1890s, and along with all that money came the a period of scams and reckless speculation.

I wonder what that voting machine was like and how it worked –  if it ever even came into being.

Less dramatic, perhaps, but interesting in a different way,  the city directory where I found the Imperial voting machine company also showed me that on Hastings Street – what is now downtown Vancouver – a couple of blacksmiths, a couple of Chinese laundries, and a few warehouses. Even a foundry with a few boarding houses interspersed here and there.

A little further away there was a harness-maker, a prospector, a steam-boatman, a cannery manger, and a shingle sawyer.

Not the kind of people who live in the city today!

All this I found in the collection of BC Directories 1860-1955 which are available online through the Vancouver Public Library.

And here is a link to a collection of directories covering Alberta, Manitoba, and Northwest Territories Directories going back to 1878.

And another link to locating historical directories across other Canadian jurisdictions. The years vary. Links to Canadian historical directories

Directories exist in almost every other jurisdiction in the English-speaking world and possibly elsewhere in some format, but that is beyond my ken.

If the above links aren’t helpful for your research, do a google search using the term, “historical directory” and the name of jurisdiction.