Archive for the ‘BC History Articles’ Category

“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.

Advertisements

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.

 

After Pearl Harbor – authors talk at Kogawa House

August 26, 2017

“After Pearl Harbour” and The 1942 Hughes Gang Murder of Yoshi Uno

The January 1942 slaying of Yoshiyuki Uno was largely forgotten until writer and historian Stewart Muir brought this tragic story back to life with new findings, published in a Vancouver Sun series in 2013 titled Merciful Injustice. Janet Nicol subsequently provided another perspective in her article “After Pearl Harbor” (BC History, 2014). Join Stewart and Janet as they discuss their research with author Susan Aihoshi, as she embarks on a book-length treatment of the Uno story. This event is for people interested in the city’s hidden histories as well as those who may have additional perspectives that could aid Susan in developing her project.

Please join us!

Thursday, September 14, 7:30 to 9:00pm
RSVP at info@kogawahouse.com

About the Kogawa House, according to the website: Located in the Marpole neighbourhood of Vancouver, Historic Joy Kogawa House was once the childhood home of acclaimed author Joy Kogawa and her family. Today, the property is a unique live/work space for writers, a space for public events, and an ongoing symbol of the racial discrimination experienced by Japanese Canadians as a consequence of the Second World War.

Killarney Secondary and Community History

April 3, 2017


School life & the community in the 1970s and 1980s – An Excerpt

By 1970, the population had increased so much, the school had to add ten portables until additional wings were built. It was the “disco” era. The Electric Crow Disco Dance was the name of a student dance. Girls had long straight hair. They also started wearing pants to school. Lots of students had haircuts with bangs. The P.E. strip was black shorts and white tops.

Students had a club for golf, bowling, wrestling and juvenile soccer, as well as a ski, scuba and cycling club and a hair cut club! There were exciting indoor track meets. Yearbook photos included the students’ phone numbers and addresses! Students liked to doodle and some had their thumbprints with their autographs in yearbooks. Advertisements for food and car repair helped pay for publishing costs. The yearbooks also show photographs of “student couples” walking around the school.

Students walked to school usually because they lived nearby (unlike today) and there was limited public transit. Langara Community College, which started in 1965, moved to its current location on 49th Avenue in 1970. Many Killarney grads have attended Langara. In 1973, Champlain Mall opened with 32 stores, including Kinney Shoes, Kits Cameras and Glenn’s Records and Tapes. The Chilean Housing Co-op at School and Tyne was built to house political refugees after Chile experienced a bloody political coup against its democratically elected government on September 11, 1973.
Killarney teachers who were students here in the 1970s and 1980s said they enjoyed going to Killarney and had lots of friends. They remember having classmates who became famous too.

Ms. Mohan is one of these teachers. She was anxious when she first went to Killarney and remembers some students played tricks in the hallway.
She also remembers the school was not as diverse as it is now. The sense of community has stayed the same, she believes, and Killarney makes you feel like you have a place to belong. Ms. Mohan remembers lots of fun activities like dancing, skiing, tackle football and live bands.

According to another Killarney teacher, Ms. Schwab, who was also a student here in the 1970s, boys got into more physical fights. Also students had to work much harder than they do today to get an “A.” There were not too many “second chances” for students who broke the rules either. It was a blue-collar neighbourhood back then, Ms. Schwab says, and housing was much more affordable. She recalls different classmates who went on to become a heart surgeon, accountant and engineer.

By the 1980s, more students were enrolling in the school who came from diverse racial backgrounds. Many Vietnamese refugees, escaping decades of war, came here. Known as the “boat people,” they have many businesses in shops along Kingsway. There were more extra-curricular activities and the music and drama departments were very active. The Wizard of Oz was performed one year. Judy Wright was Killarney’s very own super swimmer. There was boxing at school—even though the boxing gloves were in bad condition. There was a broadcasting and rope-climbing club too.

Here’s what teachers who went to Killarney back in the 1980s and 90s have to say: Ms. Semail remembers there were lots of sports clubs when she went to Killarney—and a great school spirit. Mr. Chen Henry “loved” Killarney and his favourite teacher was Mr. Wood, who taught math. He says Killarney is always welcoming every student. Ms. Wong said her school days were a “good experience.” She said the school spirit was strong, especially in sports.

Ms. Nijad says lots of things have stayed the same, like the sports, music and drama programs. To her the tradition of Killarney is its diversity. Ms. Mahovlich enjoyed her time at Killarney as a student too. “It was really a good opportunity to meet lots of different people,” she says. She notices students are still passionate about learning and volunteering. Mr. Kachmar remembers school was fun and says he made lots of friends. He says the school has always been a welcoming place.

This is a collective research and writing project of students in my Social Studies classes at Killarney Secondary, 2016-17. Watch for a permanent site on the school website. Students and teachers–past and present–are invited to build on these stories on the Facebook History page at – https://www.facebook.com/cougarhistory/

Killarney Secondary and Community History

April 3, 2017

In the beginning…..the Squamish, Tsleil-waututh and Musqueam people 

The Squamish, Tsleil-waututh and Musqueam people lived on the land around Killarney Secondary school in south Vancouver for generations. They were in the Fraser canyon region for 8000 years and in the area of Vancouver for about 3000 years, living in temporary villages along the Fraser River and ocean inlets.

The aboriginal people hunted bear, deer and cougars in the thick forests and fished for salmon in the sea, river and streams. They traveled by large dugout canoes and walked on forest trails. Each Nation had its own culture and language and had complex economies, which included trade and potlatches with other First Nation groups.

The aboriginal people encountered Spanish explorers for the first time in 1791 and the English in 1792. The mainland of what is now British Columbia became a colony of Britain in 1866 and joined Canada five years later. In 1886 the city of Vancouver was incorporated and a year later, the first train from eastern Canada arrived, bringing even more immigrants to the city.

The forest trail used for generations by the Coast Salish people (ancestors of the Musqueam) stretches through New Westminster to 7th and Main Streets in Vancouver. This ancient route became a major road known as “Kingsway” in 1913.

Today, there are more than 70 Killarney students who identify as having First Nations ancestry. The school also has a First Nations enhancement counsellor on staff.

At the entrance to the Killarney Community Centre (next door to the school) is a glass and metal sculpture called “Bright Futures.” It was created by Brent Sparrow, an artist from the Musqueam band, and installed when Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics. The symbolic images engraved on the glass are of a large “face” in the shape of the sun, surrounded by eight small “faces.” The sculpture is intended to welcome visitors and athletes “with warmth and open arms” now—and in the future, according to the artist’s statement. It is also a reminder that the First Nations people lived here for thousands of years. The artist acknowledges his ancestral ties to this part of British Columbia and writes: “I hope that the people’s hard work pay off and the bright futures goes on.”

This is a collective research and writing project by my Killarney Secondary social studies students, 2016-2017. Teachers and students–past and present–are invited to build on the histories we have written. The permanent site will be available soon through a link on the school home page. The Facebook link is at https://www.facebook.com/cougarhistory/

Lost Neighbourhood Walking Tour – Jan. 16

December 30, 2016

https-cdn-evbuc-com-images-26928160-31367644179-1-original

Until 1942, the vibrant Japanese-Canadian neighbourhood some called Kawamuko revolved around a Methodist church and school, now gone, at 6th and Columbia in Vancouver. The Uno family’s nearby confectionary store at 4th and Alberta had long served local residents with basic needs. On the night of January 16, 1942 a tragic crime with racist undertones shattered Kawamuko forever. In the months that followed, families were broken apart and the entire neighbourhood came to be erased. Now, for the first time, on the 75th anniversary of the tragedy, rediscover the sad lost story of Kawamuko on this walking tour led by historians Stewart Muir and myself.

The tour is on Monday, January 16 at 6pm.
We are meeting at 4th and Alberta Streets.

Learn more at the event Facebook page.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lost-neighbourhood-walking-tour-kawamuko-tickets-30722669331

Also check out “After Pearl Harbor,” an article I wrote about the crime in BC History magazine, Winter 2014, from the point of view of two mothers.

The article begins:

“Jessie Hughes and Oiyo Uno lived in separate worlds during the war years, though their homes were in the same Vancouver neighbourhood. In the tense winter days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, these two women became known to each other through circumstances neither would have predicted or desired.”

Won Alexander Cumyow

December 30, 2016

unknown-3

Canadian First: The Life of Won Alexander Cumyow (1861-1955)

by Janet Mary Nicol

Canada’s west coast accommodated “two solitudes”—people of the dominant English-speaking community and those of Asian heritage. One man who tried to bridge these separate, often hostile worlds was Vancouver pioneer, Won Alexander Cumyow. He was the first Chinese born in Canada in 1861, and despite limitations imposed on people of Asian background, found opportunities as a successful merchant, police court interpreter, legal advisor and advocate. Cumyow was a father when the vote was taken away from Chinese-Canadians and a grandfather when the vote was given back. His life-time efforts at reconciliation between “east and west” tell a larger story.

So begins this biography of a Vancouver pioneer, first published
in the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC newsletter and
now available on-line at the Ormsby Review. (December 2016) at –

http://bcbooklook.com/2016/12/28/won-alexander-cumyow-pure-canadian/

“Not to be bought, Nor for sale,” The Trials of J.E. Bird

November 17, 2016

by Janet Mary Nicol

Joseph Edward Bird (1868-1948) gained a reputation as a radical lawyer after he established a law practice in Vancouver in 1902. Very few other city lawyers of his generation maintained a 36 year practise involving significant labour, civil libertarian and criminal cases. Bird is best known for his legal defence of 376 passengers from India aboard the Komagata Maru, blocked from landing in Canada on 23 May, 1914, a case few other lawyers would handle because of public hostility toward Asian immigration. Bird took the unpopular stand at the time because he was “a committed socialist and attacker of injustice,” his grandson Richard Bird told the Vancouver Sun newspaper many decades later.(1)

Bird also represented several trade unions, including organized coal miners in the 1913 Vancouver Island dispute and leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike. He exposed government corruption during a trial connected to the Janet Smith murder case and in another instance, freed a First Nations man from state execution after a successful appeal and re-trial. Yet Bird’s contributions in early BC have yet to be fully appreciated.(2) This article presents a wider perspective of Bird’s work as a progressive Vancouver lawyer by examining court cases which impacted on social class and racial issues in early British Columbia.

So begins a research article appearing in the Fall 2016 academic journal, Labour/Le Travail, available to read on line by subscription at –

http://www.lltjournal.ca/index.php/llt/article/view/5843

Also note – I will be giving a presentation about J.E. Bird, one of several workshops organized by Pacific Northwest Labour History, on Saturday, May 27, 2017  at University of British Columbia.  More detailed information will be available soon at the PNLHC website.

J. Edward Bird (1868-1948) was a Vancouver lawyer who represent the passengers on the Komagata Maru in 1914. Bird fought against the threat of his clients' eventual deportation, challenged Canada's highly-restrictive immigration laws and was a defender of civil rights. Credit: The Bird family

J. Edward Bird (1868-1948) was a Vancouver lawyer who represent the passengers on the Komagata Maru in 1914. Bird fought against the threat of his clients’ eventual deportation, challenged Canada’s highly-restrictive immigration laws and was a defender of civil rights. Credit: The Bird family

Bob Bouchette, Everyman’s Columnist

October 18, 2016

by Janet Mary Nicol

The year 1935 brought dramatic protests to Vancouver’s streets. Bob Bouchette was there in his role as “everyman,” a witness and a storyteller who saw both sides of the social class divide.

Bouchette was an experienced reporter and columnist with a light touch, despite inner demons. Using the tools of his craft — a reporter’s pen, notepad and typewriter — he depicted a young city, its inhabitants and the depression era, with humour, insight and feeling.

I write five stories, weaving in the words of Bob Bouchette from articles and columns published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper in 1935. The subjects range from the weather to the bloody Battle at Ballantyne Pier. This montage captures life in Vancouver at a time of economic and social crisis.

unknown

Bob Bouchette at an aviary called the Bird’s Paradise, 1934.

Photo credit: Vancouver Archives.

 

 

The full article is available on line at BC Booklook. (Click on link.)  http://bcbooklook.com/2016/10/16/26-bob-bouchette-everymans-columnist/