Making History Visible

July 16, 2021

by Janet Nicol

A pair of exhibitions by Vancouver artists Cindy Mochizuki and Henry Tsang at the Surrey Art Gallery offer powerful meditations on Japanese Canadian internment during the Second World War. Both artists have a personal interest in exploring Asian Canadian histories and both use cameras and projection technologies effectively in their work.

The full review is at the Galleries West magazine website –

May 30, 2021

The Creative Voices Dundarave Print Workshop event is now on the Arts Council’s Youtube.

Dundarave Print Workshop – History of Art and Community

May 26, 2021

Join us for an inspiring & informative live presentation on the history of the Dundarave Print Workshop, celebrating 50 years of art & community making. Did you know this staple of the Vancouver art scene started right here in West Vancouver? Or that B.C. Binnings was one of the founders? From humble beginnings in a garage in Dundarave to a celebrated institution that fosters acclaimed contemporary artists, discover the origins & stories of the Dundarave Print Workshop.

Leading us on this journey through time are acclaimed printmaker & multimedia artist Arnold Shives who was a member in the early days, celebrated printmaker Gloria Shaw who has been a long-time member, & award-winning writer & historian Janet Nicol.

Creative Voices will be presented live via zoom on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 at 7pm to 8pm.

SUPPORT our programming if you are able.

This is a free event.  Registration is required at the following link:

The event is sponsored by the West Vancouver Community Arts Council (WVCAC).

Dundarave Print Workshop and gallery is located on Granville Island in Vancouver. Copies of the DPW booklet on the 50 year history on sale. Check the DPW website for hours of operation.

This author stopping by DPW, a young talented artist volunteering at the sales desk. Check out my article on B.C. Binning, founder of DPW, published on line in Montecristo magazine.

The Hidden Histories of Schools

May 18, 2021

by Janet Nicol

Connecting history to our school and community deepens students’ understanding of the past. Consider Vancouver Technical Secondary: students typeset, printed, and bound their own yearbooks from 1922 to 1947, the covers illustrated with linocut art. This unique yearbook collection has attracted the interest of local media, a printers’ union, and scholars. Van Tech’s rich “hidden” history, as briefly set out here, proves yearbooks are a powerful primary source, especially for social studies and social justice teachers.

Van Tech was founded in 1916 on unceded territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish First Nations and the City of Vancouver. The first Van Tech yearbook was produced by students on traditional presses in the school’s print shop. A pungent odour filled the air from printer’s ink mixed with the oil used to clean the presses. Students hand-set the type and used plates for illustrations. When the presses were rolling, they sounded “like a car backing up,” one student wrote in a yearbook. 

Lewis Elliott, the print shop teacher, oversaw production and established a Linocut Club from 1921 to 1942. A relatively new medium, linocuts were considered a “democratic” art form following World War l; the linoleum plates were cheap, accessible, and more pliable than woodblocks. An image is carved out, then the plate inked with a brayer. Next, a sheet of paper is placed over the plate and pressed. When the paper is peeled back, a transposed image is revealed. Van Tech students created multiple prints from a single carving, using up to four colours. Students’ artwork appeared on the covers and pages of yearbooks, and on the walls of the print shop.

A steelworker linocut image illustrated the school’s 1932 yearbook cover, designed by student Milton Parsons, and reflecting the school’s pride in manual trades. “The object of a technical education is to make a good industrial workman,” the principal noted in the introduction to the 1926 yearbook. When girls were admitted to Van Tech in 1940, they were segregated from the boys, enrolling in typing, nursing, tailoring, retail selling, foods, and hairdressing. Girls also studied academic subjects separately and participated in their own clubs. Marion Barber and Dot Baker joined the Linocut Club in 1943, leading the way toward increased co-education at Van Tech. By the end of the decade, the Linocut Club was gone, yearbooks had a more conventional format, and more courses and activities were a mix of girls and boys. 

Teachers could develop a lesson using their own school yearbooks, directing students to document the type of curriculum and extracurricular activities existing in earlier years. A guiding question for students could be, “How has the school re-enforced gender and social class roles—then and now?”

Yearbooks also provide a dynamic entry point for teachers to make connections with social studies curriculum content, such as the history of World Wars l and ll. Van Tech provides a rich example. The school had a rifle corps and cadet program for boys, and many students enlisted in both wars. The yearbooks published several photographs, articles, and linocut images related to the war. James Sinclair, the son of school principal, James G. Sinclair, was a student alumni who fought overseas in World War ll; his experiences are described in a yearbook article. The yearbook of 1946 had an article stating 1,409 students served in the war. Though still incomplete, a list reported 145 students killed, 31 missing, 74 wounded, 9 prisoners of war, and 34 decorated.  

Students also learn by observing omissions in the historical record. For example, Van Tech yearbooks did not mention the internment of Japanese Canadians during the World War ll, despite its impact on students. George Obokata, a Van Tech student, created linocuts and wrote about his Japanese heritage for the yearbooks during the 1930s. Reliable online sources indicate Obokata volunteered to serve as a linguist in South East Asia during the war. Afterward, he resided in Ontario and was active in Redress for Japanese Canadians.   

Teachers could ask students to brain-storm about a “silence” observed in their yearbooks and then investigate whether this historical gap was subsequently addressed.

This leads to another teaching opportunity on the topic of racial justice. Articles and artworks about First Nations culture in the Van Tech yearbooks illustrated students’ interest—but also prejudices. Derogatory “jokes” about racial groups, specifically Chinese and Black Canadians, found their way into Van Tech yearbooks too, the school culture reflecting a society that normalized racism.   

Students not of British heritage some-times offered alternative perspectives. In the 1930 yearbook, Benito Gadarini wrote an article titled “A League of Nations: A Cross Section of Young Canada” for readers to “…know something about our melting pot of a school.” While reference to a “melting pot” is a problematic term, Gadarini does make visible a multicultural, not racially homogeneous student population, countering histories that are not inclusive.

Teachers are advised to thoroughly preview yearbooks for racist content and only proceed with the lesson if feeling equipped to do so. Additionally, it is essential teachers ensure proper supports are in place for BIPOC students during every aspect of classroom research and discussions.

Many of the students enrolled in Van Tech’s print shop classes and Linocut Club used their skills after graduation in a variety of ways, from apprenticing in a newspaper pressroom to setting up their own print shop. Tracing students’ school-to-work paths provides another dynamic lesson. Bill Wong was another Van Tech student involved in the print shop and Linocut Club. He went on to study civil engineering at the University of BC. No firm would hire him because of institutionalized racism, so he entered the family business called Modernize Tailors. He and his brother Jack were the subjects of a documentary, Tailor Made:Chinatowns Last Tailors, and on November 3, 2013, the City of Vancouver declared Modernize Tailors Day in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the shop. 

In groups, students could research an alumni, focusing on their subject’s challenges, and accomplishments.

Learning in the social studies and social justice classroom is enriched when students investigate “hidden” school histories and make connections to a wider curriculum. As well, students personal and social awareness is enhanced as they consider how past generations of youth navigated social justice issues. 

“What has changed?” and “What needs to change?” are a couple of the follow-up questions teachers can ask students after the yearbook project is over. Positive societal change is more likely to occur if the histories we teach are inclusive, truthful, and give value to a diverse range of Canadians, including young people who have walked through our very own school hallways in years past.

Re-posted from BC Teacher magazine, May/June, 2021

Victoria Unbuttoned: A Red-Light History of BC’s Capital City

April 30, 2021

A Book Review

by Janet Nicol

Linda J. Eversole’s second foray into the world of white female prostitution is now available in “Victoria Unbuttoned” as she continues her dogged research into the biographies of marginalized women. Eversole builds on her previous account about Stella, the “unrepentant madam” of early Victoria. My review in BC Studies is accessed at the link below and will appear in the journal’s printed version at a later date.

Celebrating Dundarave Print Workshop & Binning – a cultural mover and shaker

April 23, 2021

by Janet Nicol


April 16, 2021

A Whimsical Sculpture Warns of Asbestos Dangers


A seven-metre-high metal sculpture installed outdoors at the Vancouver Convention Centre will be sure to catch the eye of locals and tourists alike with its playful, wind-blown mobile of cups, spokes and wheels. But when viewers of the British Columbia Labour Heritage Centre (BCLHC) art project take a closer look, they will be in for a surprise.

“Wind Wheel Mobile” by Vancouver artist Doug Taylor has a very serious message: the art piece, scheduled to be unveiled this spring, is a memorial to workers who have died from asbestos-related illnesses. Once considered the “magic mineral,” asbestos is still the number one killer of BC workers, with 47 deaths in 2018 alone. Across North America, the mineral’s deadly fibres are responsible for 40 per cent of workplace deaths.

“We decided against a memorial that was traditional and sombre,” says Joey Hartman, Chair of the BCLHC and past president of the Vancouver & District Labour.  “Doug’s work is whimsical, light and kinetic. It will get people to pause and say ‘what is this?’” 

The full story is available on line at Our Times magazine –


Dundarave Print Workshop turns 50

April 3, 2021

A booklet gives the history of the workshop, written by Janet Nicol, designed and produced by Lone Tratt. $20 (TR Trades, Vancouver, 2021.)

Dundarave Print Workshop, a gallery-studio on Granville Island, celebrates 50 years as the oldest, continuous printmaking workshop in British Columbia. A limited edition history of the printmakers’ non-profit collective, with photographs and a cover print, is available for purchase at the front counter. Check hours of business at the DPW website. Also note: Copies also for sale on Granville Island at Malaspina Print Workshop, Opus Art Supplies and Upstart and Crow books.

Also watch for an upcoming on-line article in Montecristo magazine about the origins of the workshop out of a garage in the West Vancouver neighbourhood of Dundarave. Bert Charles Binning (1909-2976), a renowned artist and “mover and shaker”in Vancouver’s cultural community, was the driving force behind setting up the workshop, along with Wayne Eastcott, a professional artist, now residing in Japan.

Book review – Four Umbrellas

March 28, 2021

Four Umbrellas:  A Couple’s Journey into Young-Onset Alzheimer’s by June Hutton and Tony Wanless  Dundurn Press, 2020  

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Caregiving for a spouse – as opposed to a parent – has its own specific stories and heartbreaks. June Hutton, a Vancouver-based novelist and teacher, has experienced both. The author’s mother had Alzheimer’s in her final years and then her spouse, Tony Wanless unknowingly was struck with “young-onset” Alzheimer’s prior to his retirement from the Vancouver Province, aged 53. Fourteen years would pass before Wanless received a diagnosis in 2017, allowing him and Hutton to fully understand his inexplicable episodes— such as when Wanless packed a suitcase with four umbrellas.

So begins my review of ‘Four Umbrellas’ for Senior Line magazine, March 2021 issue. The magazine is available in print at various locations in Vancouver and on-line at the Senior Line magazine website. (You can also click on hyperlink ‘Senior Line Archive’ below book cover image on this post.)

‘Zoom’ talk on Sybil

March 15, 2021

Join author and art historian Janet Nicol for a discussion of her book On the Curve:  The Life and Art of Sybil Andrews.  She and the curator, Jenelle M. Pasiechnik will be discussing the major themes of her book and the current exhibition.

Event time –   Saturday, March 27, 2021 at 2pm PDT (one hour)

Registration for this online ‘zoom’ event is now open at the Campbell River Art Gallery website.  

The talk is part of the CRAG exhibition (March 6 to May 1) and featuring Nicole Crouch, Karver Everson, Jake James, Kari Kristensen and Marni McMahan.  Each of these BC artists have produced new work in response to Sybil Andrews’ biographical history, aesthetic style and artistic practice.