Covid Chronicles

March 9, 2021

By Janet Nicol

A living history project by workers and the BC Labour Heritage Centre.

Canadians on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic are facing risks that workers faced a century ago when the Spanish flu swept the globe — but this time working people are telling their stories and people are listening, including volunteers at the BC Labour Heritage Centre, in Vancouver.

“It sets you to thinking about your own history,” says Marie Decaire, a member of the centre’s board who recently retired from her job at the Community Savings Credit Union. “My mother was born in the Kootenays around the time of the flu outbreak. She never mentioned the Spanish flu when I was growing up. And I never asked.”

Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, the 1918 flu pandemic infected 500 million people, about a third of the world’s population at the time. Last year, Decaire researched Vancouver newspapers published in 1918 and she noticed how workers’ lives were rarely mentioned. She didn’t want the same thing to happen to workers and their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, and so she proposed an oral history project called “COVID Chronicles: Labour’s Story.”

“Workers’ voices need to be heard,” she says. “When I proposed the idea of collecting COVID stories, everyone loved it.”

So what are BC workers saying? Check out the latest issue of Our Times magazine to find out.

Our Times magazine, Winter 2021.

Working with Courage and Care

February 17, 2021

by Janet Nicol

“I love being a first responder and saving lives,” says mental health worker Brionne Kennedy in a telephone interview with Our Times. Trained in First Aid and a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 1004, she is employed with PHS Community Services Society, a charitable, non-profit in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. 

For the past three years she has worked at the Maple Hotel, which houses 70 residents. She works 12-hour shifts, three days a week, alongside one other co-worker. A single mother, Kennedy has been on personal leave since August 2020, and looks forward to returning to work soon.

For the full interview, go to the Our Times magazine website –

More of my stories about front line workers braving the pandemic – and the valuable work of the BC Labour Heritage Centre preserving this living history – coming soon in Our Times magazine, Winter 2021.

Brionne Kennedy (right) assists a Maple Hotel resident having trouble climbing the stairs after the elevator broke down, by offering to move his belongings to a vacant room on a lower floor. PHOTOGRAPH: JOSHUA BERSON

Gertrude’s House of Stone

January 29, 2021

by Janet Nicol

Schoolteacher Gertrude Lawson was mid-career when she designed and oversaw construction of her West Vancouver manor in 1939, among the few single women in British Columbia to ever hold a mortgage at that time.

Within the Scottish-style stone walls subsequently erected at 680 17th Street, Miss Lawson (as she was known to her many students) would harbour aging family members, rent rooms to an assortment of tenants, and host decades of social and artistic gatherings.

So begins a local history article about Gertrude Lawson’s house of stone in West Vancouver, published online in Montecristo magazine. (Link to full article below photo.)

Art for the Holidays

December 16, 2020

by Janet Nicol

From Winnipeg to Sydney on Vancouver Island, check out this holiday shopping round-up, available on-line at Galleries West magazine. (link below.) You will find great gift ideas based on my telephone interviews with gallery owners and artisan shop keepers across the West, all with the same message: shop local and support Canada’s art community.

Merry holidays and here’s to a bright 2021.

Sheena Lott, “Silence in the Snow,” no date; acrylic on canvas, 20″ x 20″ (courtesan Peninsula Gallery, Sidney, BC)

A Great Revolutionary Wave

December 3, 2020

 A Great Revolutionary Wave:  Women and the Vote in British Columbia,  Lara Campbell, Vancouver:  UBC Press, 2020.

Reviewed by Janet Nicol

Lara Campbell’s concise and engaging account re-thinks the history of the women’s vote in British Columbia as she follows the origins of the suffrage movement in the 1880s to the passage of provincial legislation granting white women the vote in 1917.   By extending the scope of these historic benchmarks and examining issues such as the suffrage movement’s racial exclusionary stance, social class alliances and global influences, the author offers a fresh look at our past.

Published in BC History magazine, Winter 2020

Sybil in Cycles

November 29, 2020

I am pleased to have an abbreviated biographical account of British-Canadian Sybil Andrews’ artistic life published in a gem of a twice-yearly chapbook out of Ontario, “The Devil’s Artisan.” (Winter, 2020)

According to the DA website, “We reach out to a global audience of typographic and printing arts enthusiasts who appreciate the value of the printed word even in this digital age.” More info about the journal is available on their website at –

Print copies also available at the Vancouver downtown Chapters Indigo’s magazine section.

Coming soon….

November 18, 2020

I’m emerging from ‘lock down.’ Expect musings about Sybil Andrews, a BC printmaker; how Covid is impacting BC workers; celebrating a Vancouver art institution; book reviews on women’s suffrage (“A Revolutionary Wave”) and a couple’s challenges with early onset Alzheimers (“Four Umbrellas”).

More details to follow as articles are published.

Pencil drawing, J.M. Nicol 2020

The History of Nursing in BC

May 28, 2020

“Be Kind, Calm and Safe” J.M. Nicol 2020 (oil on embossed Japanese Mulberry paper)


As a participant in the BC Labour Heritage Centre curriculum project, I developed a lesson on the history of nursing in BC, entitled “The Professionals.” It is available, at no cost, at “TeachBC”   Search for:  “The Professionals.”   A 3 minutes video of the same title, can be downloaded at the BC Labour Heritage Centre site as well.

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

Book review: Passion and Persistence

February 8, 2020

Passion and Persistence: Fifty Years of the Sierra Club in British Columbia, 1969-2019 by Diane Pinch. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC, 2019.

Book review by Janet Nicol

This book chronicles the many ways Sierra Club members have campaigned to protect the wilderness, from advocating for a park rather than a mountain resort to confronting the global climate crisis. Author Diane Pinch, a long time Sierra Club of BC (SCBC) member, offers an important aspect of our provincial history, employing prose that is engaging and accessible and using first hand accounts, archival club materials, maps and photographs.

For the full review check out  the upcoming issue of BC History, Spring, 2020.