Archive for the ‘BC History Articles’ Category

‘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 the summer issue of BC Studies, 2019.

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

DSC00265

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

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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)

***

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.

dsc00204

 

@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.

***

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

Schools out in Terrace

October 5, 2017

Teacher’s six day strike in 1981 helped paved the way to full bargaining rights

 
by Janet Nicol

British Columbia’s public school teachers didn’t achieve the right to strike until 1987—but that didn’t stop them from walking off the job. In fact teachers across the province have engaged in several disputes since the BC Teacher’s Federation was established in 1917, all playing an essential role toward gaining full collective bargaining rights. Among these actions was the teachers’ strike in Terrace in 1981. It was the fourth— but not final—time BC teachers would participate in an “illegal” walk out.

Tensions had been growing between the Terrace District Teachers’ Association (TDTA) and the nine-member school board in early 1981. About 337 teachers worked in schools enrolling 3,800 students within Terrace and other communities in northwestern BC. Local teacher associations (which included principals) only negotiated wages with their school boards and if they could not reach an agreement by a set deadline, the matter went to binding arbitration. School boards were not required to negotiate any working condition items with teachers.

That fateful spring a popular middle school principal, Tom Hamakawa, was transferred and demoted to classroom teacher by the district superintendent Frank Hamilton. This disciplinary action was “the catalyst that brought the whole thing to the surface,” Wayne Wyatt, President of the TDTA, told the Vancouver Sun. “We want a decent policy established on how this sort of thing should be handled in the future.” The staff supported the principal “very strongly,” Wyatt also said. Three hundred students were sympathetic too, walking out of class and marching to the school board office in protest.

Full article at BC Labour Heritage website – http://www.labourheritagecentre.ca/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/TerraceTeachers1981_web.pdf

When BC schools are named for people “close to home and heart”

September 27, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Make no mistake, naming new schools is political and at times controversial. There was great public outcry earlier this year, when residents petitioned to name a new elementary school in Vancouver’s Yaletown after Chinese-Canadian pioneer and advocate, Won Alexander Cumyow and the request was turned down in favour of the bland “Crosstown.”

A debate erupted two years ago when Sir William Macdonald Elementary on Vancouver’s east side was threatened with closure. Protesters succeeded in a temporary reprieve, and got a promise to rename the school to reflect its unique Aboriginal program.

When John Robson Elementary was torn down and replaced by a new middle school in New Westminster three years ago, trustees engaged in a renaming discussion because the late-nineteenth century BC Premier John Robson had a poor record on race relations. The result was Fraser River Middle School.

As more community members are invited to consult on the naming of new schools, a shift is occurring. Instead of reflecting colonial ties and a male-dominated elite, more schools are named for “ordinary” men and women of diverse backgrounds who have made valuable contributions. The local landscape is enriched when our public schools are named for people who displayed heroism, generosity, and talent. Students can be motivated and inspired by their school’s namesake too. Allowing more local input in the process of selecting names gives school communities a greater sense of pride and belonging.

Consider these stories behind the names…

Few argued against the renaming of Port Coquitlam Senior Secondary in 1986 to Terry Fox Secondary. Fox was a beloved alumni, and his personal battle against cancer and his selfless Marathon of Hope inspired the nation.

Japanese-Canadian pioneer and human rights advocate Tomekichi Homma had an elementary school named after him by Richmond trustees in 1990.

Jessie Wowk Elementary in Richmond was named for a humanitarian Ukrainian immigrant who helped people standing in bread lines during the 1930s depression.

Educators have been getting their dues too. In Surrey, Earl Marriott Secondary opened in 1972, named after its first principal, who went on to become the district superintendent.

It seems fitting to have more schools named for female educators, considering women have dominated the profession. In 1989 Martha Jane Norris Elementary was named for Surrey’s first school teacher, and a Yaletown elementary school was named after educator Elsie Roy in 2004. Norma Rose Point Elementary opened in 2017 on the UBC campus, honouring an Aboriginal educator and member of the nearby Musqueam Band.

A middle school in Kelowna was named for constable Neil Bruce in 1965. He was shot in the line of duty while attempting to rescue a young woman.

Mar Jok, a Chinese-Canadian resident who served as a court interpreter and operated the Star Cafe on Water Street, has his name on an elementary school in West Kelowna.

Dr. Kearney Middle School, built in 1985 in Fort St. John, is named for a pioneer doctor and early advocate of Medicare who successfully guided a life-saving operation on a man, via radio, in 1939.

Margaret “Ma” Murray Elementary in Fort St. John was named for the town’s colourful newspaper owner in 2016.

Charles Hays Secondary in Prince Rupert was established in 1992 and named after a local businessman who met his fate on the Titanic.

Myrtle Phillip Elementary in Whistler opened in 1976, named for a woman who built Rainbow Lodge with her husband Alex, in 1913. She was also a school trustee, and frequently visited her namesake school until her death in 1986.

In the Kootenays, Hume Elementary, over a century old, is named after an early hotel owner, J. Fred Hume. Now both the Nelson hotel and school have heritage value.

Reprinted from BC Teacher magazine, September-October issue, 2017.