Archive for August, 2008

Alvo von Alvensleben – early Vancouver booster turned ‘enemy’

August 26, 2008

by Janet Nicol

The life of Alvo von Alvensleben is full of twists and turns.  

His story, with original research, is published in the most recent issue of BC Historical News.

Reference only at –
A slightly edited version of this story has been re-published in Donald E. Waite’s “Vancouver
Exposed: A History in Photographs.” More information available at Waite’s publishing website:

Vancouver Race Riot, 1907 – a story based on a true event

August 26, 2008

by Janet Nicol

What did the Vancouver race riot of 1907 look like from the point of view of one of its
participants? This is an imagined story based on the point of view of one of only a handful of male rioters arrested.

Full story on-line at BC Historical News site:

Click to access bch_2007_02.pdf

Sophie Pemberton – An Early BC artist

August 26, 2008

pembby Janet Nicol

Sophie Pemberton, a contemporary of Emily Carr, was born and raised
in Victoria, BC. An accomplished artist, her long life, lived on three continents, is a compelling story.

For a reference only to the article, on Artichoke magazine site:




Bejiing Confidential

August 22, 2008



Jan Wong is the perfect insider-outsider when
it comes to explaining the homeland of her
ancestors. Her journalism for the Globe and
Mail, including coverage of the Tiananmen
Square democracy protest and massacre, and
her book Red China Blues, chronicling her
time as a fervent Maoist at Beijing University
in the early 1970s, have given readers
remarkable insights into a fascinating and
ever-evolving civilization.

Now, Wong is compelled to look back
again, this time to make amends with Yin, a
former Communist sister-in-arms living in an
unbridled capitalistic regime. Wong convinces
her husband and their two teenage sons to
spend a month in Beijing as the city prepares
for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Her story is all
about the journey, but is also about seeking
Yin, whom Wong had turned in to state
authorities for the crime of expressing a desire
to travel to the West.

Looking for Yin is like finding a needle in a
haystack. The capital alone has 16 million
people. When you consider that 40 per cent of
the population shares 10 surnames and
cellphone users change their numbers
frequently, searching for a friend from the past
seems impossible.

Remarkably, Wong does find Yin—who has
changed her name to Lu Yi—and learns about
her punishment and life after freedom.
Ultimately, Yin’s words absolve Wong of her
guilt. Wong writes, “I realize that Lu Yi
symbolizes the upheaval, the pain, and all the
cataclysmic changes that have transformed
this eternal city.”

Wong, a second-generation Chinese-
Canadian, is amazed that Yin, as well as two
other former comrades, Scarlet and Luna,
have given up successful careers to be
housewives. Wong writes, “Lu Yi seems very
happy now. But I can’t help but wonder: is this
what the revolution was all about?”

Wong’s keen observations give us the big
and small pictures of the new Beijing and its
people. She enlists her family to help, but also
maintains a caring eye for them—all part of
the modern woman’s juggling act and
something that adds another dimension to a
story that may be more about the getting of
wisdom than the making of revolution.

Reprinted from Herizons magazine, Summer, 2008.

Not so sweet – Vancouver sugar workers’ strike

August 15, 2008

sugarThe story of a strike in early Vancouver at Rogers’ sugar refinery is recounted in an article in BC History journal, 2002, Volume 35.3.

Click to access bchn_2002_summer.pdf


2/4  Woodcut Print        “Waterfront Ghosts”            Janet Nicol


Frank Rogers – Labor activist and martyr

August 15, 2008

A Working Man’s Dream
by Janet Nicol

I write about Frank Rogers, a BC labour martyr, in BC History magazine (Vol. 36, No.2). In 2003, one hundred years after he died, I was part of a labour-organized memorial at Vancouver’s Mountainview Cemetery. The article is posted at the cemetery website.

Also, check out Stephen Hume’s story in the Vancouver Sun, September 1, 2012, “A deadly fight for labour rights” on the turbulent history of the BC labour movement, including the Frank Rogers story.

Pronto plate Lithograph with watercolour marks by Janet Nicol, 2018.


“Unions aren’t Native”

August 15, 2008

muck“Unions Aren’t Native”: The Muckamuck Restaurant Labour Dispute (1978-1983)

by Janet Mary Nicol

The Muckamuck Restaurant, owned by non-Natives, employed First Nations workers, who cooked and served aboriginal cuisine. In 1978, the employees joined SORWUC, an independent feminist union and went on strike. Their powerful story is chronicled in the academic journal, Labour/Le Travail, Volume 40, 1997.

The article is available on line at –

and is also available on university library databases.

A detailed article about SORWUC organizing in Vancouver restaurants and banks, appeared in Women and the Environment International (WEI) journal, Winter, 2014.

The article is based on research I did for an upcoming Knowledge Network TV production, Working People: A History of Labour in British Columbia – This documentary shares 30 stories of workers whose important contributions help build British Columbia. The series was developed in partnership with the Labour Heritage Centre and with the support of the Vancouver Foundation. One of the 30 stories (each are two and half minutes) is about the SORWUC bank drive.

You can search the Knowledge Network website to download the series.

Three wishes

August 2, 2008

Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, by Deborah Ellis

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

“Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak” is a collection of heart wrenching first-person accounts by 20 Israeli and Palestinian youth, ages 8 to 18, interviewed by the author on a visit to the Middle East in 2002.

“I wish the fighting would end, so that we can just make music and have fun and not hate each other,” 14 year old Yanal says in “Three Wishes. ” Yanal lives in a Palestinian territory controlled by the Israeli military. She describes her family, school, Muslim traditions and dreams. And just as we are drawn in to the ‘normalcy’ of Yanal’s life, she jolts the reader with stories of never-ending tensions and violence.

Talia is 16 and lives in West Jerusalem, an Israeli territory. “My best subject is Hebrew literature,” she says. “I’m a good student.” But Talia’s life is not ‘normal’ either because of constant and random violence. She has only one wish, too. “I want the war to end, so I can keep living in Israel and raise my children here.”

Not all the young people interviewed talk of hope and peace. Instead some hold on to hatred and revenge. And many reveal disturbing truths as they describe injustices they have borne or witnessed. The author prefaces each account with information about his or her living conditions, educational system, and government. A map of the region is also included as well as black and white photographs of the interviewees. The final pages of Three Wishes contain suggested readings and a list of non-partisan organizations.

Three Wishes became controversial in early 2006 when it was placed on the Ontario Library Association’s list of recommended readings for the Silver Birch awards. An elementary school teacher in Ontario complained and the Canadian Jewish Congress added its voice in opposition. These critics argue the book demonizes Israeli soldiers and glorifies suicide-bombers. As well, they feel the author fails to describe the coercion used and official support given to self-sacrificing Palestinians. Consequently, some Ontario school libraries have withdrawn Three Wishes from its shelves or limited readers’ access.

Salam, a 12 year old Palestinian, provides an example. She tells of the ‘heroics’ of her 17 year old sister, Aayat, who deliberately detonated a bomb among Israelis, killing herself, two others and wounding twenty-eight people. Ellis does preface Salam’s story stating many Palestinians disagree with suicide bombings and believe lasting progressive change can only come through non-violent means.” Three Wishes gives these children an important forum to speak their truths, and however unpalatable, Salam’s story is a necessary component. Omissions in Ellis’ commentary can be addressed through public dialogue, not censorship.

Reprinted from “Our Schools, Our Selves”, 2007.

Asian Art @ Centre A

August 1, 2008

 by Janet Nicol

A is for “Asian” at Centre A gallery in Vancouver, and curator Makiko Hara, who moved from the art world of Japan to Canada, has found a home at this unique gallery of contemporary Asian art.

Hara curates three shows a year and helps select three other curators to exhibit annually. The gallery also rents to the public.  “We want the community to feel part of this place,” Hara says in an interview from Centre A’s downtown eastside location at 2 West Hastings Street.

Hara works in an open area extending behind the angular-shaped, high-ceiling gallery. The heritage building was once a railway station and the old brick sides remain alongside a modern wall of glass. From here, she helps give exposure to Asian-Canadian artists.

“I am driven by the artists’ ideas rather than the material,” she says. “With art,” Hara adds, “we have the ability to change people’s thinking.”

Hara became a permanent Canadian resident after she was hired at Centre A in 2006, but she was raised in Japan’s creative art world in 1960s Tokyo. Her father was a sculptor and professor, and her mother was an artist.

Hara rejected the life of an artist for herself. “Too much up and down,” she says. Instead she studied literature at university. But a summer job in an art gallery interested her and eventually she became an independent curator.

Hara was 25 years old when her partner, an architect and professor with whom she continues to have a long-distance relationship, gave her the idea of enrolling in the Banff Centre for the Arts program in Canada.

Hara travelled to Alberta “without knowing much about Canada,” she says. “I was the first applicant from Japan.”

“In Japan, art is very commercial,” Hara continues, “and does not have government support.  I wondered ‘what is an artist-run gallery?’”

She liked what she saw, describing Canadian artists’ ideas as “very fresh.”

Unable to speak English fluently but determined to succeed, Hara tape-recorded each class at the Banff Centre. “I would listen to the tapes at night and force myself not to speak Japanese or have contact with anyone who would speak Japanese with me.”

Later Hara returned to Canada to teach at Concordia University in Montreal, when its fine arts faculty wanted to develop an Asian-Canadian art program.

“I didn’t have an academic background,” Hara says. So she took a three-year undergraduate program in art history at Concordia and graduated in the spring of 2000. At that point, Hara considered a permanent move to Canada.

“And then September 11 happened,” Hara says. “My parents said, ‘Are you really going to Canada? Is this a great time?’”

Hara decided to stay in Japan. But, in 2006, she received an email from Hank Bull, the director at Centre A, encouraging her to apply for the curator position.

“The timing felt right,” Hara says. “I always wanted to come back to Canada. Japan is still very patriarchal. Women are not respected and there isn’t a lot of critical discussion.”

Now that she’s a Canadian, Hara does not want to be known exclusively for her knowledge of Japanese or Asian art. But she does believe that Centre A plays an important role in giving artists of Asian heritage exposure within a Western-dominated culture.
Really, though, “what does ‘West’ and ‘non-West’ mean?” she muses.

She is pleased to be part of the gallery’s current show Orientalism and Ephemera, exhibiting until April 26, with Jamelie Hassan, a Lebanese-Canadian, as guest curator.  Somewhere in this show’s 29 artists’ works, Hara may find her answer. 

Reprinted from the Canadian Immigrant, 2008.