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 (unlike in this picture!!)

As I’ve been working on writing a wedding-day scene for my historical novel set in Vancouver 1885-1911. I realize I need help to get my protagonists’ underwear and clothes right.

I’ve been reading historical novels for years, but have always glossed over these terms to get on with the story, and only ever had a vague idea about what some of the pieces actually 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 .

The study of the history of fashion is a complex and detailed discipline and one I don’t claim any proficiency in. 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 at least the 1880s to the present.  As well as  what was available and acceptable 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.

Ivan is a local historical hero in my books – and we’re lucky to have him.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Vancouver history, Women, women's history

Emily Patterson – The Heroine of Moodyville

A couple of books have recently come out on two dynamic women in Vancouver’s history, Emily Patterson by Lisa Anne Smith and Julia Henshaw by Michael Kluckner.

I thought I’d shed a light on Emily Patterson because she, or a character based on her,  will have a part in the novel I’m writing which is set in early Vancouver.

Emily Patterson was a nurse and midwife here from the early 1870s at a time there were incredibly few other white women. She earned a reputation for being fearless, kind, and dedicated to helping settler families and others on both sides of Burrard Inlet. She is most vividly remembered for an episode one night when she traversed Burrard Inlet in a small boat to help someone in Point Atkinson  That act was later immortalized in a poem in which she earned the sobriquet, The Heroine of Moodyville (the settler name for what later became North Vancouver).

I’m not sure if I will portray Emily as herself in my story or if I will conjure up a character at least partially based on her.  I would love to put her in as herself, but since there will be some issues in the story – possibly an abortion and likely some discussion about birth control – that might be contentious, I don’t want to put her in a position where she will take a stand or give advice or assistance unless I can find out for sure that she would have supported these things.  A big challenge.

But I can use her life and experiences to give me a sense of how midwives worked here in the late 19th century, along with general early midwifery, abortion, and birth control history, and conjure up a character loosely based on Emily.

In any case, if you’re interested in Emily Patterson and the experience of an early white woman in this part of the world I recommend the book, Emily Patterson : the heroic life of a milltown nurse by Lisa Anne Smith.

The author will be speaking at the Vancouver Historical Society meeting this Thursday (May 24), 7:30 pm at the Vancouver museum – FREE.

Here’s a link for more info.

http://www.vancouver-historical-society.ca/index.html

 

 

Bradford, England, Historical documents, Historical research, Industrial revolution, Novel excerpt, Research, Women, women's history, Yorkshire

Getting a feel for Bradford

No matter how much you read or watch, there’s nothing like travel to get a deeper feel for a place whether you’re doing historical research or not.

There are things you just don’t think of asking or looking for while researching a place from afar. And things that other sources might not mention because they seem too mundane or obvious.

But by being in a place, you absorb so much, whether consciously or not, that adds depth to understanding your story’s or your ancestors’ settings.

I spent a few days in Bradford in West Yorkshire this week, a place that’s currently going through some tough economic times.

I felt a sadness there – a feeling that was much more palpible than all the research I’ve been doing about the place over the past year.

Is this a vestige of its history? Did the working poor of the 19th century have the same apparent feeling of defeat as I perceived in Bradford this week?

A few people made a lot of money in the textile industry of Bradford in the 19th century.

But the vast majority of its 200,000 inhabitants, including thousands of children – and my protagonist Annie – worked 12-hour days in appalling conditions, earning barely enough to keep body and soul together.

And they lived in dark, dingy, and overcrowded housing surrounded by 200-foot high smokestacks spewing sulphurous smoke from factories throughout the city.

A classic Dickensian scene of the industrial revolution.

Adding to the misery, then and now, Bradford is a very windy place. Relentlessly so. And last week it was really cold too despite the spring season.

It wore me down the way I imagine it wore Annie down as she walked, hunched over in the pre-dawn light on her way to the factory where she worked.

But there were times when the simple pleasure of hearing songbirds chirping made me smile as I walked down the street, or looked out onto the famous moors of the Bronte sisters, and I imagined it bringing some happiness to Annie too.

Along with the more linear research I’ve done so far, I am holding fast to these feelings and impressions of Bradford, adding fuel to the fire of my imagination as I conjure up Annie’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

And also to work them into her memories as she traveled miles from the only home and life she ever knew before arriving in the village of Granville (later Vancouver), in 1885, a tiny settlement with a lumber mill, surrounded by towering evergreens, and a dearth of white women.