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. 

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.

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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.

British Columbia history, First Nations history, Historical photos, HIV/AIDS, Photos, social history, Stonewall Festival, Vancouver AIDS Memorial, Vancouver arts and culture, Vancouver history, Vancouver Pride Festival, Victoria, Victoria Pride Festival, women's history

Vancouver Gay and Lesbian History Photo Identification

Fantasy and Freedom, Diana Rose does Diana Ross (1990’s).
Reference code: AM1675-S4-F15-: 2018-020.3712

The City of Vancouver Archives is asking for help from the public to identify a thousand images it has received that document the gay, lesbian andLGBTQ2+ history of BC.

The full collection of more than 7000 pictures date from as early as the 1890’s up to 2014 and includes:

  • local theatre
  • comedy
  • dance
  • artists
  • politicians
  • female impersonation
  • Stonewall Festival
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Vancouver Aids Memorial
  • Vancouver Gay and Lesbian Community Centre
  • First Nations
  • Vancouver Pride Festival

If you were in Vancouver and active in the gay and lesbian community back to the 1940s, or know anyone who was, consider going down to this event, next Saturday, Oct 26, 1-5 pm to help identify people and events in the city’s gay and lesbian history. It’ll be at the Sun Gallery, Suite 425- 228 Keefer St

Or visit the City of Vancouver Archives in Vanier Park to access these materials or go to help with their identification project. Might be a good idea to call ahead so that an archivist will be available to help, 604-736-8561.

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