Alexander St, Dupont St, Historical research, Local heros, Research, Vancouver history, Women

Street Names of Vancouver – available online

I can’t believe I’ve been looking at the front page of the BC historical directories for a few years and never noticed that it has a link to an electronic version Elizabeth Walker’s Street Names of Vancouver.

Elizabeth Walker
Photo by Professor Bob McDonald
both deceased 2019

Elizabeth Walker, who was the head of the Northwest History Room at the Vancouver Public Library was motivated to write this reference book because so many people asked her about how their street was named or who it was named after.

So after she retired she took on this project, spending hours at the Vancouver city archives and the Special Collections Divison of the main Vancouver Library.

Street Names of Vancouver is an immensely valuable resource that I consult at least once a week.

As well as notes on street names, arranged in alphabetical order, the book includes:

  • information on the street numbering system in Vancouver
  • notes on numbered streets and name changes
  • map of street names 1870-1899
  • map of street names 1900-1929 #
  • map of street names 1930-1999
  • bibliography including maps consulted
  • additions, omissions, and revisions since publication in 1999

# The separate municipalities of South Vancouver, Point Grey, and Vancouver amalgamated in 1929 precipitating a number of street name amalgamations and changes.

The online version is simply a pdf so to search, do “control F”.

Elizabeth Walker died earlier this year but her work lives on.

Archive Angel
British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical novel, Historical photos, Research, Telephone operators, Vancouver history, Women, women's history

Vancouver Telephone Operator’s Strike of 1902

Image courtesy of MontanaWomensHistory.org

I’m toying with the idea of having either my protagonist, Annie, or her sister – or both – working at the New Westminster and Burrard Inlet Telephone Company (later BC Tel and later still, Telus) and taking part in a strike that really took place in Vancouver, against the company in the early 20th century.

On November 26, 1902, women telephone operators from the phone company, along with linesmen, inspectors, and repairmen struck for higher pay, shorter hours, and recognition of their union.

Telephones had already become crucial to running a business in Vancouver, so businessmen (sic) in the city supported the strikers and even offered to volunteer to help keep the service running while negotiations were underway.

A little over two weeks later, on December 12th, the company gave in to all of the strikers’ demands including implementation of an 8-hour work day and provision of three days sick leave per month.

Every phone operator who’d been with the company for six months or more received a raise of $2.50/month. This brought their pay up to $20/month, ($300/year), the poverty line at that time.

Long distance operators got $32.50/month, and linesmen $66/month.

I

British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical novel, Historical research, Research, social history, Vancouver history, Women, women's history

A blizzard in Vancouver, 1911 – Annie stranded in the West End

Wet and heavy, the snow we get in Vancouver paralyzes the city for days to the delight of skiers and children.  But for those who have to get to work or have no choice but to get somewhere, the snow can wreak havoc to their plans. Even public transit buses get stuck in the snow and city crews are kept busy clearing streets and putting up barricades to keep traffic off the steepest hills.

I wanted to find out about a real-life snowstorm in Vancouver- the likes of which we are familiar with here – for a scene in my story, in either 1911 or 1912  I wanted my protagonist,  Annie to be stuck in her west-end home, alone and lonely with lots of time on her hands to think about something that was bothering her.

The Canadian government has weather records as far back as 1898, and, fortunately for me, there were records for Vancouver back to 1911. 

I went  through a few months when we generally have blizzards here in Vancouver, and identified a run of three days in  November 1911 when the snow did not stop falling.  This fit in perfectly with the scene I was working on and helped me pin down the next series of events in the story with historical accuracy.

Yipee!  I’ve been trying for as much authentic historical accuracy as possible, but at times have had to fudge a few dates to fit the storyline, and create wholly fictionalized characters where I cannot accurately portray  a real-life person from our city’s past.

At the same time, I’m trying to follow Jack Bickham’s advice from his book on Scenes and Settings about the importance of getting local facts right, including weather.

Originally I was going to assume sometime in November or December of either 1911 or 1912 for this scene, (because I wanted it to be before Christmas) and just pick a random date but Jack Bickham convinced me to make the extra effort to track down accurate local weather conditions for added authenticity.

The federal government weather statistics that exist cover average and extreme temperature ranges, rain, snow, and total precipitation, and wind gusts, by month and by specific day of the month.  Plus more, no doubt, that I haven’t looked into. It’s fun to look at even if you don’t have a specific research project in mind.

Archives, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Historiography, military history, Record keeping, Remembrance Day, social history, Women, women's history

Trying to study war no more

chessmen

 

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One – the so-called war to end all wars. A senseless slaughter of young men on both sides, sent to fight from muddy, disease-ridden trenches, and told to wipe the memory from their minds after peace was declared and move on.

Yet the physical and emotional trauma those soldiers suffered followed them home after the armistice.  Many ended up in insane asylums or became burdens to their families for the rest of their lives, shunted off to a back room in the family home plagued by nightmares or strange mutterings, or drunkenness.  Even those who seemed to be doing alright walked the streets at night, unable to sleep because of their nightmares.

Broken lives. What we’d now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But those soldiers were told basically, to suck it up and forget their experience of war, and move on.

When I worked at the City of Vancouver archives, I got researchers looking into all kinds of things. Military units and people prominent in the armed forces. Evidence of women’s political groups or agencies or information about those working for suffrage, women’s rights, and equal pay.

And though there were a few documents scattered throughout the collection documenting  the issues or the people working for political and social justice, there were plenty of documents about the military and their people.

I encouraged those who wanted to unearth records about progressive history to look at what we had and try to read between the lines as to what wasn’t there or what was on the other side of the mirror. But that kind of research is harder and takes longer to do.

And often, these researchers were so discouraged by the lack of information about progressive movements that they resorted to the easy-pickings; the men, military, and marine records that have traditionally been abundant in archives. And the result?

The war records get used and studied and written about again and again.

And the documents kept coming in. Old women came to the archives from time to time, proudly carrying their brothers’ or father’s, or uncle’s, or husband’s personal records or war mementos, and offering them to our collection.

Yet they seldom brought in anything that would memorialize their own life’s work or passions. And when I’d ask them, they’d became self-deprecating, shake their heads and deny that they had ever done anything of lasting value.

Generally it takes a certain kind person or a certain kind of organization that, dare I say, has enough of an ego to think their actions and the documents that record them have historical value and relevance. And then think about bringing them into an archive to be preserved and made available to future historians.

Altogether, this makes it easy to see why many archival records are of a conservative nature. They’re more accessible, follow a familiar and logical organizational scheme, and pertain to institutions, organizations, and people who have access to funds and political power.

And that makes them easier to access and get funding to research and commemorate as well.

It’s a bit of a vicious circle.

 

 

 

Beaty museum, Fashion history, Historical research, Ivan Sayers, Local heros, Society for SMOC, Uncategorized, Women, women's history

A wedding in Vancouver, 1886

trousers-underwear-nostalgia-past-54611
Although men’s long-underwear would be hung to dry on the clothesline, women’s “unmentionables” would never be so publicly displayed but would be dried in the house, inside a pillowcase or towel.

 

As I’ve been working on writing a wedding-day scene for my historical novel set in Vancouver 1885-1913 I realize I need help to get her underwear and clothes right so I can be as authentic as possible.

I’ve been reading historical novels for years, but have always glossed over these terms in my effort to get on with the story, and only ever had a vague idea about what they were.

Now I understand that part of the reason I never fully understood is because their design, purpose, and construction changed according to the whims of fashion and the social position of women over the couple of hundred years they were worn.

The study of the history of fashion is a complex and detailed discipline and one I don’t claim any proficiency.  But in Vancouver, we’re fortunate to have a knowledgeable and passionate costume historian, Ivan Sayers, who not only knows the minutiae of fashion, but also the social history of women as it relates to it.

From details about the multiple layers of underwear and the way a corset was tightened. From the colour and pattern on fabric to the way a woman wore her hair. From the kind of jewelry to the style of shoe – Ivan knows these details as they went through their subtle and profound changes every few years from the 1800s to the present.  As well as  what was available and acceptable here in the early days of Vancouver.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours with him last week and he gave me the low-down on Vancouver fashion of the 1880s – what the women here knew about the latest fashions in Europe, how they tried to replicate it, and what they’d do to fudge it the parts they couldn’t, whether because it wasn’t available or was too expensive – specifically for my servant-girl protagonist.

Shifts, crinolines, bustles, petticoats. Here was my chance to get the low-down without having to pour through books and try to figure out which style was appropriate for the time in.

Ivan is a local historical hero in my books – and we’re lucky to have him. Next week I’ll talk about his work to create a costume museum in Vancouver and his fashion shows featuring original clothing that he commentates, bringing a feminist historical perspective to the issues, trends, and movements as they relate to clothing of the time.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Ivan’s projects, check out SMOC, the Society for the Museum of Original Costume which he founded in 1992 to build, preserve, and study historical textiles, fashion, and traditional costumes.

His next fashion show is entitled Beastly Habits on Sept 21 which will coincide with the Beaty museum exhibit Skin and Bones which opens Sept 15 and runs until next summer.

Archives, Artists, British Columbia history, Canada history, Historical documents, Historical research, Paintings, Photos, Research, Vancouver history, Women, women's history, Women, Women's History, Vancouver History, Lisa Anne Smith, Michael Kluckner, Nursing History, Midwifery, Journalism, Early women travellers, Women writers

A picture – the proverbial 1000 words

Red Cross booth 1918
Red Cross booth at a war-time carnival in Vancouver. Image by James Crookall, circa 1918. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives (photo 260-1048)

 

As with paintings, a photograph can give so much information about a place and its people and they are well worth the time and effort of tracking down. But stay focused or set a timer for yourself because it’s easy to unintentionally spend a lot of time on this kind of research.

Like many people, I am fascinated by historical images and find that as I work on my novel, set in Vancouver 1885-1913, I return to archival photos, either online or in person, to review scenes that help me re-imagine and hone the details of my story to bring it further to life.

This picture from a WW I era carnival in Vancouver in 1918 is a great example of the kind of detail I love. I can see the fashion of the time, including hats, hair-styles, nurses’ uniforms, street lights. Even the price for admission to some event at this carnival.

It gets me thinking how tenacious people are, trying to carve out a semblance of normalcy during times of war or disruption. There is an inherent seriousness to this carnival scene with the Red Cross as its focus.

So as I let my imagination go with the idea of setting a scene there with all the carnival’s inherent energy and sensations – the smell of popcorn and feel of it getting stuck between your teeth. Or getting sticky fingers from eating candy-floss. Of watching out for horse manure on the ground. And hearing the sound of children squealing as they come over the top of the Ferris wheel. The music and the hucksters.  The coloured lights as darkness falls.

And what was that 10 cent attraction?

A temporary reprieve from the worries of loved ones on the front.

Because there’s a good chance the people in the picture had lost someone close to them, in the Great War, the name given to WW I at the time. Or had a family member on the battle front. Or missing.  The Red Cross stand and its link to the war brings all the frivolity back down to earth and speaks to what’s really on everyone’s mind

You can write an entire scene of a novel, or a play, or a movie – maybe even an entire story based on this one picture.

As a writer or artist of any kind, these are the real-life images that you can hold in your mind’s eye as you ponder your scenes and characters, absorbing historical details and events almost intuitively.

As for the nuts and bolts of doing photo research itself, I’ll come back to that next week.

 

Alberta history, Alexander St, Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Chinese Canadian history, Fairview, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Manitoba, Northwest Territories history, Research, Southeast Asian community in Vancouver history, Vancouver history, Women, women's history

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.