Archive for the ‘BC History Articles’ Category

Drawbridge – a book review

July 26, 2019

Drawbridge: Drawing Alongside My Brother’s Schizophrenia
by Joan Boxall Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2019

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

A memoir told in ten lyrical essays, Drawbridge: Drawing Alongside My Brother’s Schizophrenia is Joan Boxall’s moving tribute to her brother, Stephen Corcoran. In the early 2000s, Joan became co-trustee of Stephen following the death of their parents. So began her enlightening ten-year journey supporting a brother with a mental illness. Joan intersperses research, observations, and thoughts with her poetry, each essay framed within a theme of art — the powerful tool that provided a path for Joan and Stephen to connect.

The pair spent many Tuesdays mornings figure drawing from live models at Basic Inquiry studio and gallery on Vancouver’s Main Street. Stephen held two exhibitions at Basic Inquiry prior to his death from cancer following a short illness in 2013, aged 64.

The full review is available at The Ormsby Review, an on-line journal.
Link at – https://ormsbyreview.com/2019/07/26/584-brother-artist-at-the-edge/

Steven Corcoran drawing, May 2011

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Seeing BC’s Past Through the Eyes of an Artist

June 8, 2019

By Janet Nicol

A male driver in a flatbed truck loaded with oversized logs threatens all in his path, a sensation British-Canadian artist Sybil Andrews actually experienced on the Vancouver Island highway in 1952. “We met the great load coming up toward us, up the steep hill into Campbell River,” Sybil later wrote. “We got out of the way in our little Mini until it was safely past before we went down the hill.”  Her linocut print, Hauling, inspired by the highway scene, evokes the heyday of BC’s logging industry. Many of Sybil’s eighty-seven linocuts have exhibited internationally beginning in the 1930s, their value  escalating dramatically over time. When Sybil died in 1992, aged ninety-four, she also left behind charcoal sketches, woodcuts, watercolours, oils, and a tapestry. This talented artist, offers a unique perspective on our province’s history.

The full article is available in BC History, Summer 2019.

Hauling (1952), Linocut print by Sybil Andrews

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In the same issue of BC History, I review Lily Chow’s Blossoms in the Gold Mountains: Chinese Settlements in the Fraser Canyon and the Okanagan  (Caitlin Press, Halfmoom Bay, 2018.)   Chow offers a valuable study of early Chinese settlements in the Fraser Canyon and Okanagan.  Drawing on a wealth of sources, she provides important descriptions about early Chinese communities in and around six towns in the province’s interior. The author is well acquainted with the systemic discrimination Chinese people faced, having explored her own family history. Besides depictions of early settlers’ hardships, Chow’s narrative also includes instances where indigenous people were allies, white people expressed sympathetic feelings and advocates within the Chinatowns gave support.

 

 

‘Girl Strikers’ and the 1918 Vancouver Laundry Workers’ Dispute

April 12, 2019

by Janet Mary Nicol

Campaigns to raise the minimum wage across North American impact women, comprising the majority of these employees. A century ago women performing low-paid work fought a similar battle for a living wage. They were limited to gendered work, navigating inferior working conditions, sexual harassment and health and safety concerns.

In Vancouver, 300 workers, most females, at seven steam laundries joined a union over the summer of 1918. In early September, they went on strike for four months to improve wages and conditions within an occupation that was hidden, hard and dangerous. Characterized in newspapers as “girl strikers,” most were over 18 years old, working of necessity.

The strike is narrated through the lens of four female participants, taking into account intersectional issues of race, class and gender.

This research paper was presented at the Pacific Northwest Labour History conference in Seattle in 2018 and again at Teaching Labour History: Making Connection in Vancouver, sponsored in part by the BC Labour Heritage Centre in 2019.

Watch for the published article in an upcoming issue of BC Studies.

Cascade Dominion- Laundry Employees Annual Picnic
at Seaside Park, on the Sunshine Coast – June 29, 1918

Photo by Stuart Thomson
Vancouver Archives – AM1535-CVA 99-5201

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“Steam Laundry Girls”, Linocut 3/4, Janet Nicol

TeachBC: Lessons on Labour and Justice

April 12, 2019

Seven Lessons developed by Janet Nicol

The following seven lessons are available on the BC Teachers’ Federation website at “TeachBC”  (Direct link at teachbc.bctf.ca.)   Search by lesson title or author.

*TRC Call to Action Lesson (on Truth and Reconciliation report (2016) Grades 11, 12 and Adult

*Paige’s story – a lesson about a BC teen in the DTES (2016)
Grade 12 and Adult

*Fishermen’s Strike of 1900 (Working People: A History of Labour in BC) (2015) Grades 10-12

*First Economies – on Aboriginal labour history (Working People: A History of Labour in BC” (2015)

*The Professionals – on BC nursing history (Working People A History of Labour in BC) (2018)

Won Alexander Cumyow – on BC’s first Chinese-born Canadian (Working People: A History of Labour in BC) (2015)

By Women, For Women – on the SORWUC bank drive (Working People: A History of Labour in BC) (2015)

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Five of the lessons are also available at the
BC Labour Heritage Centre website, along with video clips.  These lessons were part of the Centre’s Labour History Curriculum Project.    The project was featured in Canada’s History magazine (link at –  https://www.canadashistory.ca/explore/business-industry/building-british-columbia)  and the work of the project, short-listed for the Governor Genera’s History Award (2019).

Link to lessons and videos at –
http://www.labourheritagecentre.ca/working-people/

This life-sized wood likeness of an early logger, is perched atop a 15 m (50 ft) pole in downtown Campbell River.  Hand carved by Dean Lemke in 1984 using local yellow cedar,  ‘Logger Mike’ pays tribute to the labour roots of this city on northern Vancouver Island.

Photo by Janet Nicol (2018).

Vancouver Foundation – history research project

April 8, 2019

In 2017, I was contracted by the Vancouver Foundation, Canada’s largest community foundation, to research its 75 year history,  spanning the war era to present times. The foundation has mentored dozens of other community foundations and continues to make a difference with programs such as Neighbourhood Small Grants (encouraging interaction among urban residents) and Fostering Change (supporting  youth in foster care).

Here’s a Vancouver Foundation history timeline, highlighting some of their key contributions.   (This PDF version can be enlarged by clicking on the downloaded image.)

‘My brother gave me a peddler’s kit’

October 5, 2018

The Sabas in early BC

by Janet Nicol

Alex Saba, a 17 year old Christian Lebanese immigrant, began walking the back roads of Vancouver Island in 1900. He peddled wares from a suitcase, given to him by his brother Michael, who had arrived to BC from Beirut ten years earlier.    Residents in Nanaimo and the Comox Valley came to know Alex well as he walked door to door, selling merchandise.

“My brother gave me a peddler’s kit with $40 or $50 worth of goods and told me I was in business,” Alex recalled to a Vancouver Sun journalist years later. “When people saw I couldn’t speak English they seemed eager to help me,” he also remembered. “Maybe the language barrier wasn’t a hindrance after all. I sold about $6 worth of goods, underwear, handkerchiefs and notions the first day.”

In 1903, Alex and Michael established a women’s clothing shop in downtown Vancouver, “the Saba Brothers,” serving three generations of customers to 1983.   The full story is available in BC History, Vol. 42, Issue 4, 2009.

I imagine Alex Saba carrying a ‘suitcase’ style backpack and walking along his peddling route on the eastern coastline of Vancouver Island, in this etching below, entitled ‘Island Pedlar.’  The print is on display until January 20, 2019 at the Winter Show, Dundarave Print Workshop, Vancouver and for sale, unframed at $80.

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@cougar history – Facebook page on school history

March 15, 2018

by Janet Nicol

A facebook page created by Killarney students during my final teaching year in 2017 and based on their school and community history, is featured in the upcoming issue of BC History magazine, as a “Cabinet of Curiosity.” Check out the magazine, with lots of history articles about BC schools–and check out the Facebook page at Killarney Secondary and Community History@cougarhistory.”

BC History, Spring, 2018

Chinatown and Strathcona • BC Labour History Bronzed

December 14, 2017

Labour Notes

by Janet Nicol

Check out the latest issue of Our Times magazine for Labour Notes
on Marcy Toms’ Chinatown/Strathcona history walking tour, featuring many
remarkable women, and the BC Labour Heritage Centre’s ‘plaques around the province’ project, with the spotlight on previous generations of coal miners in Fernie, BC.

1921 New Westminster teacher strike

October 31, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Teachers in New Westminster delivered a special valentine to their school board when they announced an “illegal” strike February 14, 1921. Since the founding of the BC Teachers’ Federation in 1917, only one other local, Victoria, had defied their employer. The New Westminster walk out almost a century ago marked an important step toward full bargaining rights for BC teachers.

The full story of this lively and important part of teacher history is available at –
http://www.labourheritagecentre.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/BookletNewWestminster_web.pdf

The plaque remembering this strike was unveiled today (October 30, 2017) at New Westminster Secondary School and will be permanently installed at another location soon.

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I have written this additional story–not published elsewhere–based on researching the New Westminster strike of 1921: 

Between the lines – glimpsing school days long ago

by Janet Nicol

If any teacher needs a reminder of how far we have come as empowered educators with hard-won professional autonomy, consider reading the school board minutes in decades past. A glimpse of the meticulously typed New Westminster records of the early 1920s reveal glaring prejudices in an era when elected school board trustees held power over individual teachers.

The case of Miss Whelan provides such an illustration. A special meeting was called by the elected seven-member board October 15, 1920 to discuss her dismissal from the position of assistant teacher at T.J. Trapp Technical school. The principal, Mr. Lambert, charged her with “insubordination” and the “failure to work harmoniously with the principal and other members of the staff.”

Miss Whelan protested and a petition requesting the board re-consider the decision was initiated by a teacher colleague, Mrs. Fulbrook. Miss Whelan sent a letter to the board defending herself as well, stating she had a doctor’s note explaining her work absences.

“After considering the letter of protest from Miss A. Whelan,” the board minutes of January 10 read, “the secretary was instructed to courteously inform her that the board considered the matter closed.”

Miss Whelan’s plea to unsympathetic male trustees did not go unnoticed by teachers in the district. Only trustee Sam Bowell would oppose the heavy-handed direction of the board weeks later, during the Feburary 1921 teacher dispute. Miss Whelan’s dismissal undoubtedly explains the association’s insistence during strike negotiations that the board agree to a “fair hearing” if a teacher is dismissed. The Daily Columbian was critical of the board too during the dispute, characterizing the “closed door” meetings as “Star Chamber sessions.”

Several of the trustees in this period had prominent positions in the community—and two (Trapp and Howay) had local schools named after them. Board chair Thomas Trapp owned a hardware store and had served on the board for 30 years. Robert Gray, board secretary, was a former mayor and Frederic Howay was a judge well-known throughout the province. Howay was biased against trade unions, having meted out stiff prison terms to several striking coal miners during the 1912-14 Vancouver Island dispute. It is instructive to note Howay resigned as trustee on February 19, 1921 following a contract agreement favouring the striking teachers.

While female teachers represented most of the elementary school teachers in the district, they were underrepresented in the crucial strike negotiations of 1921. However a “Miss (Edna) Knight” does appear in the board minutes of December 21, 1920 as one of four teachers presenting the association’s demands in the lead up to the strike.

References to Chinese-Canadian students in the minutes indicate they are segregated in to separate classes and in one instance the December 8 1920 minutes notes that trustees met such a class with a “gift of books on British history and naval matters for use among the oriental pupils to stimulate them.”

Also segregated are special needs students, referred to in the minutes as “backward pupils” and of “low mentality.”

We can be grateful for progressive change. Then again, there are some things that never change. Minutes of the board taken February 2nd 1922 indicate an engineer reported an “…uncalled for ringing of the fire alarm in the High School on the night of the 27th of January.” The trustees decided it would be prudent to change the “alarm boxes.”

“Like a Bolt from the Blue”

October 18, 2017

by Janet Mary Nicol

“Like a bolt from the blue, and to my profound astonishment, I was on Tuesday afternoon set upon by a number of special constables and arrested,” Israel Rubinowitz wrote from his prison cell in Nanaimo.

It was autumn 1913 when the budding defence lawyer made a plea for his release, penning a letter to Judge Frederick Howay in the midst of a coal miners’ strike on Vancouver Island. Though a Conservative in politics, Rubinowitz offered a passionate, occasionally radical, perspective in British Columbian courtrooms. He grew up in Vancouver, studied at McGill University in Montreal and attended Oxford University in England on a Rhodes scholarship in 1905. He returned to Vancouver and had only practised law for a short time when he found himself in Nanaimo – as both counsel and accused.

So begins a biographical account about the life and legal cases of early Vancouver lawyer Israel Rubinowitz. The writing of this history was inspired by the novel The Sacrifice by Adele Wiseman (1928-1992). In the words of its protagonist, the family patriarch, Abraham: “… and yet there was a time, I think, when I had everything … but now, when I look back, I had at least the beginning of everything.”

The article is available in “The Scribe,” a journal of the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC, available in late November, 2017. A shorter version of this essay was published in the Jewish Independent, July 31, 2015.  Now available on line (page 97) at – https://jewishmuseum.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2017-SCRIBE_final.pdf