Archive for the ‘BC History Articles’ Category

A Vancouver steam laundry girl’s story about the Spanish Flu

March 18, 2020

by Janet Mary Nicol

Ellen Goode was among 300 employees in Vancouver – most female – on strike against steam laundry employers.  The dispute started in September, 1918 and lasted four months, with unions achieved in two of the seven workplaces.   Ellen talked about her experiences in a taped interview years later.  She  recalled laundry owners blamed striking employees when the Spanish flu began spreading in Vancouver in October 1918, finally dissipating in the New Year and leaving nine hundred residents dead, four strikers at IXL Laundry among them.

Ellen recounted:

“A full-page advertisement came out in the papers that the flu epidemic was not easing up owing to the laundry workers being on strike with dirty linen. So the union ran an ad stating that we would man any laundry, free of wages, twenty-four hours a day for people with the flu in their home – which we received no response for. We wanted to man the general hospital which was working ten hours a day. But there was no response to it.”

Ellen also said: “You’d get on the streetcar and people, they’d say – they’d know you were a picketer because they’d see you get on the corner and they’d say, ‘No wonder so many people are dying when the laundry girls are out and refuse to work, you know.’ But that’s what they [the employer] did with us. But it didn’t work.”  She continued: “I did have that paper for years until it began to crumble and I had to throw it away. I kept it as a souvenir.”

***

Note: The BC Federationist, the labour newspaper of the day, published the names of the four members of the Laundry Workers Union who died. Mountain View cemetery records indicate date of death and age. The four workers were: Miss Josephine Tielens, aged 19, died 2 November; Miss Margaret Roxburgh, aged 19, died 25 October; George Baker, aged 34, died 31 October. Nick Pervie is not listed in the cemetery records.

This abridged excerpt is from “Girl Strikers and the 1918 Vancouver Steam Laundries Dispute” in BC Studies, Fall 2019

Free access to the full article (as of March, 2020) is available on line at
https://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/bcstudies/article/view/190428/188946

‘Girl Strikers’ and the 1918 Vancouver Laundries Dispute

November 19, 2019

by Janet Mary Nicol

Abstract

Canadian soldiers were still fighting overseas alongside the British, when more than 300 laundry workers in Vancouver—most of them female—went on strike in September of 1918. During the ensuing four months of the dispute, trade union men protested conscription, the Spanish flu pandemic swept through the city and on November 11, an armistice in Europe was celebrated in the streets. Trade unions had gained leverage by 1916 in Vancouver and across Canada, strike activity proliferated between 1917 and 1920. During the tumultuous final months of the war, the ‘laundry girls’ found an opportunity to take a stand. This narration examines a labour dispute at seven Vancouver steam laundries in 1918 through the lens of four female participants: Helena Gutteridge, union organizer and executive member of the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council; Ellen Goode, a 20 year old striker who gave a oral account of the strike decades later; Josephine Nelson, a 31 year old Irish immigrant and 43 year old Matilda Cruickshank. The intent of this research note is to better understand the lives of working women a century ago. Issues raised as they intersect with class, gender and race will be considered. The strike was a transformative experience for many women involved, their lives changed—‘as the world was changed.’

Full article can be purchased on-line for $5 at the BC Studies website, and journal at $20.   Direct link at –
https://bcstudies.com/issue-single/bc-studies-no-203-autumn-2019/

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

****

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 at seven steam laundries–most female–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.

Full article in BC Studies, Autumn, 2019 – now available for purchase on line at bcstudies.com for $20 (full journal) or $5.00 for article only.

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

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.

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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.

***

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.”