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. 

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.