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MAJOR COLLECTOR: Major James Skitt Matthews

As part of our exploration on the relationship between public and private collections in All Together Now, I conducted an interview with Heather Gordon, Vancouver City Archives.

Major James Skitt Matthews - Vancouver historian, collector, featured in All Together Now

I wanted to know more about Vancouver’s first historian and collector, Major James Matthew (1878- 1970) whose work continues to have a huge impact on Vancouver’s historiography. Local historians, filmmakers, authors and other creatives researching Vancouver’s past are bound to stumble upon Major Matthews’ extensive records.

Heather’s insights and knowledge of Major Matthew’s collection were most helpful:

Viviane: How did Matthews started collecting?

Heather: Major Matthews arrived in Vancouver in 1898, twelve years after the city’s incorporation. Shortly after his arrival, he began writing about Vancouver. To get information, he searched old maps and spoke with old-timers. In the process, Matthews became acutely aware of the imminent loss of the Vancouver’s “pioneers” and of the city’s rapid transformation. He saw himself as the champion of Vancouver’s history.

Viviane: As someone who is surrounded by his collection and is constantly interacting with it, how would you describe Major Matthews’ collecting philosophy, in three words:

Heather: Eccentric – both the items he collected and how he catalogued them. Even today, some things are almost undiscoverable unless you 'think like Major Matthews.'

Subjective – he was the quintessential collector-archivist. He collected what he wanted to collect, interpreted it and edited it. He worked exactly opposite the way professional archivists work today. We leave the interpretation to our researchers. Not so the Major.

Militaristic -- he loved anything military.

Viviane: What would you say is one of Matthews’ most important contribution to the city archives?

Heather: His collection forms the core of the Archives’ private-sector holdings, holdings that have grown substantially since his death. Those holdings complement the City government records in our care, and are crucial for telling the non-government side of the story of Vancouver’s development.

Viviane: Could you tell us a bit more about the digitization of the collections of books Early Vancouver?

Heather: Early Vancouver is one of the most used resources at the Archives and we wanted to make it more widely accessible. Written between 1931 and 1956, and over 3,300 pages, it is a collection of Matthews’ interviews with pioneers, along with annotated photographs and maps and transcriptions of letters and newspaper articles. What you see online is actually a transcription of the text, not a digitized version. The paper Matthews used was too thin and his typewriter ink too blurry to result in a scanned image we could keyword index. Funded by the Vancouver Historical Society, hundreds of hours of transcription was the answer, with digitized versions of the photos and maps added to the transcribed version.

Viviane: Could you mention a few examples of people (not just historians) using Matthews’ archives for their work (you can be as specific or generic as you want)

Heather: Academics, of course, but also bloggers and social media enthusiasts who love to feature his photographs. The photos are also popular among business owners (particularly restaurateurs) who exhibit large reproductions of his photos, complete with his handwritten annotations, on their walls. One of my favourite uses, though, is by author Lee Henderson. He consulted Early Vancouver extensively in order to evoke the Vancouver of 1886 for his novel The Man Game.

All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds features Major Matthews' collection of Vancouver history.

All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds featuring Major James Matthews’ collection closes Sunday, March 19.

 

 

 

The Ship That Saved Vancouver

Countless vessels have transacted in Vancouver’s port throughout the city's history. Few ships, though, hold such an important place in Vancouver’s history as the Robert Kerr.

The Robert Kerr was a sailboat built in 1866 in Quebec. In 1885, she was sold at auction and retrofitted into a coal barge, pulled around by a tugboat. The Robert Kerr travelled between Vancouver Island and the mainland on a regular basis. It was during one of these trips that the ship earned its reputation as “the ship that saved Vancouver.”

Robert Kerr - the ship that saved Vancouver
S.S. Robert Dunsmuir on the left, and Robert Kerr on the right. City of Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-: Bo P127.3, 1898.

On June 13, 1886, work crews for the Canadian Pacific Railway were clearing land between Cambie and Main streets. A strong wind picked up the controlled brush fire and carried it towards Vancouver. The fire engulfed the city, killing dozens of people. Witnesses reported that within forty-five minutes, the city was reduced to ash. The crew of the Robert Kerr opened their ship to people who were fleeing the fire. Approximately 150 people climbed on board and watched the city burn from the relative safety of the ship’s deck.

The Great Vancouver Fire
Map drawn by city archivist J.S. Matthews showing the path of the fire. Note the Robert Kerr in Burrard Inlet. City of Vancouver Archives, sketch by Major J.S. Matthews, AM1562-: 75-54, 1932.

However, the ship's role in the Great Vancouver Fire began long before June 13, 1886. A year before the fire, the Captain of the Robert Kerr donated the ship’s bell to the city of Vancouver for use as a warning bell. The bell rung a year later as the fire first spiraled out of control. Those peals were the first warning for many residents.


The bell that the captain of the Robert Kerr donated to the city of Vancouver in 1885. This bell was rung on June 13, 1886 to warn residents of the fire. Museum of Vancouver collection, H973.539.1

After the fire, the Robert Kerr continued to haul coal throughout the west coast of British Columbia. In March 1911, the tugboat Coulti was tugging the Robert Kerr from Nanaimo to Vancouver when it accidentally pulled the Robert Kerr across a coral reef just north of Thetis Island. The crew removed the coal on board, abandoned the Robert Kerr, and left it to sink. The shipwreck, designated a heritage site under the BC Heritage Conservation Act, is a popular site among recreational scuba divers. 


 

Montanna Mills is a recent graduate from the master’s program in public history at Western University. As a member of MOV’s curatorial team, Montanna is conducting research for an upcoming exhibition focusing on the city’s development during the 1860-1880s period.  Occasionally, she will share research on the MOV blog.

Help Make History

This GivingTuesday, you are invited to partner with MOV on a highly anticipated exhibition.

GivingTuesday is a global day of giving where Canadians, charities and businesses come together to celebrate the spirit of giving.

The Museum's underexposed collection of Haida art features more than 400 rarely displayed pieces by Haida carvers, weavers, jewellery makers and painters.

This collection has sat protected in the Museum's vault for years, but has been rarely seen. With your help, we can unveil this remarkable Haida collection for the first time in its entirety.

We ask you to make a contribution toward this new Haida exhibition which will engage a broad audience and connect with a variety of communities.

As a non-profit registered charity, the Museum relies on the support of donations to continue to steward its collection of 70,000 artefacts, and offer outstanding exhibitions and community programming.
 
Make a minimum donation of $100 or become a monthly donor on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 and you will be entered to win a prize package that includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the MOV collection vault.
 
Three ways to donate
  • Online at Canada Helps
  • By phone: 604-736-4431
  • In person at the MOV Visitor Services desk

FRIDAY Five Favourite Photos - 1973

Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos from a Decade that Changed the City is now on view at the Museum of Vancouver.

The exhibition displays over 400 photos from The Vancouver Sun collection. To get a closer look and to celebrate some of these stunning photographs, each Friday we'll be selecting our Five Favourite Photos from each year of the seventies. 


 

1) Interesting skyline shot to compare to how the city looks today.

 June 26, 1973  - Seaplane and skyline of city at Coal Harbour. Photo by John Denniston (Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun 73-2344)
 

2) I find this photo inspiring as it shows a young Svend Robinson delving into his passions and supporting the community at an eary age, unbeknownst of the influenitial Canadian political figure he will become.

August 1, 1973 - Svend Robinson, who went on to become a long-time Member of Parliament (1979-2004), working at the Youth Referral Centre for transient youth at 1845 West Georgia Street. Photo by Brian Kent (Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun 73-2881)

3) Chinatown feels bustling and exciting with the wall of signs and power lines overflowing to the point where the family crossing the street is almost camouflaged into the background.

August 30, 1973 -  A mom and her children cross East Pender Street in Chinatown early in the morning. Photo by John Mahler (Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun 73-3391)
 

4) The composition really mirrors the mood in the photo and the faces of the reporters says it all. The way they are hovering down on Bill Bennett and pointing their mics directly in his face, further emphasize the discontent and the pressure coming down on him.

November 25?, 1973 - Bill Bennett wins the leadership of the Social Credit Party at the convention. Photo by John Mahler (Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun 73-4426)
 

5) This photo accompanies a series of fashion shots, however this particular one stands out because on top of the man's cool fashion sense, it feels extremely candid and natural. There is also a nice balance of masculine and feminin with his muscular build and stern look juxtaposed his long flowing hair and big heeled shoes. This image is the cover of the Vancouver in the Seventies book which inspired the exhibition.

August 14, 1973 - Summer street fashion on West Georgia Street with the Devonshire Hotel in background. Photo by Vladimir Keremidschieff  (Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun 73-3098a)


Exhibition Sponsor

Exploring MOV's History Galleries

Written by Greg Sikich, Post-Graduate Museum Studies student at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

The Vancouver History Galleries at Museum of Vancouver provide a chronological story of place. With a diverse range of information, visitors can select from multiple entry points to develop an understanding of the Vancouver story. 

Energy, good fortune and the evolving aspirations of a diverse people are all woven into the story. A key theme of change, and a willingness to routinely re-vision the social, environmental, political and economic fabric of Vancouver life is displayed over six galleries.


Provoking conversation upon entering the first gallery is the Musqueam First Nation story: c̓əsnaʔəm, the City Before the City. The Musqueam are one of the oldest continuing inhabitants of the Vancouver area. The objects on display unpack the rich societal traditions of the Musqueam people. Dialogue in this introductory section to the Vancouver History Galleries expands the traditional narrative of the colonizer by sparking an open discussion about the Musqueam influence in shaping Vancouver. The ongoing story of the Musqueam enables conversation about the rich land that Vancouver shares and the long standing traditions embedded.


Moving further into the Vancouver History Galleries, entering:1900s-1920s: The Gateway to the Pacific, one begins to sense the excitement that early migrants would have felt arriving in such a humble port town. For example, the Chinese migrant is positioned as a valuable asset to early ‘Saltwater City’ by making positive contributions in logging, sawmills, market gardens and as domestic hands. In addition, the Jewish migrant is reflected in the working class fabric of young Vancouver, taking on roles as furriers and shoemakers. Commerce, labour and a driving spirit to achieve financial fortune is echoed throughout the beginning part of Vancouver History Galleries.

Notions of urban growth becomes clear when visitors walk across a massive town planning map on the floor in the centre of the first gallery. The Victorian values of “clean, moral pursuits” are coupled with sound financial opportunities in the shop window displays around this floor map. In addition, the challenges posed by a city growing into a melting pot of cultures are fused into the didactics as Vancouver ripens into a new cosmopolitan centre during the early twentieth century. It is interesting to read how new ideas and perspectives on sharing a geographically rich space are embedded into the story of Vancouver.


An immersive history experience gobbles the visitor up with re-created shop facades, period houses, street scenes and even a tram to jump on board for a photo opportunity. Visitors can ‘step inside’ Vancouver’s past by becoming fully immersed in each decade of the exhibition. Numerous objects, photographs and tactile materials allow visitors opportunity to engage in each immersive section. This helps visitors gain a real sense of the everyday experiences of Vancouverites through the ages. This approach to showcasing history in a museum brings to mind recent visits to the Chinatown Museum in Melbourne, Australia, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and Glenbow in Calgary, Alberta. All three feature immersive, recreated sets of significant historical moments that engage with the senses.


The notion of Vancouverites truly knowing how to push boundaries and embrace change during both prosperous and challenging times becomes evident during the interwar years as explored in the gallery, 1930s-1940s: Boom, Bust, and War. Topics of amalgamation, labour movements and local gardening initiatives all establish an innovative population. Visitors are able to participate in this space by posting childhood memories from growing up in Vancouver on a cork board; thus, connecting the present to the past and enabling conversations about change and continuity. Vancouver History Galleries becomes personal at this stage of the experience as visitors can contribute their story to the chronologic history unfolding throughout the space.


A highlight in Vancouver History Galleries is the portion that discusses the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II.  The Japanese began arriving in Vancouver in 1877. They comfortably established themselves in the Powell Street area. As more migrants from Japan arrived, nagaya (side alleyways), reminiscent of cities in Japan, filled with an assortment of businesses and social facilities. Though gaining citizenship rights was limited, the Japanese community continued to establish a proud identity within Vancouver and demonstrated support for the young nation of Canada.


In collaboration with the Japanese Canadian National Museum, Vancouver History Galleries provides a factual and unbiased look at the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II. A variety of perspectives are evidenced using primary source documents from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Department of Labour and the Department of the Secretary of State. Through these viewpoints, the plight of Japanese internment becomes a discussion point. Adding a further layer of reality to these documents of exclusion and confiscation without consent are the voices of those Japanese who experienced forced re-location. These testimonies of forced uprooting delivers an honest and reflective part to the World War II portion of the gallery. Visitors engage with both written and visual accounts, past and present, to assist in developing an understanding to a challenging moment in Canadian history. At the conclusion of the gallery, visitors leave a turbulent time in human history with the 1988 Government of Canada acknowledgement of the injustices imposed upon Japanese Canadians during this period of global conflict. It is good to provide opportunities to discuss these moments in our collective past. By having these types of provoking conversations in museums, Vancouver, and Canada as a whole, can thrive in an internationally integrated world and facilitate meaningful intercultural understanding.


At the conclusion of the Vancouver History Galleries, neon lights and music change the reflective wartime tone and trumpet in an exciting future for Vancouver through to the 1970s. Immersive and tactile exhibition design continues by evoking the senses. Visitors can take a seat in a downtown 50’s inspired diner in the 1950s: The Fifties Gallery, listen to local 60’s bands, and watch urban plans to change how people will live in a future Vancouver in the final history gallery, 1960s-1970s: You Say You Want A Revolution. The modern era of Vancouver’s development spoils visitors with choice as they wander through these exciting decades. It is common to hear visitors share stories and relate to challenges Vancouver faced in its social, environmental, political and economic development. Entry points are ample with mega objects, anecdotes from the time and didactics. 


Vancouver History Galleries leaves the visitor spoiled with choice. Whether discovering Vancouver for the first time or re-discovering a long loved city, the curatorial voice is one that provides the sparks to provoke memory and discussion. There is an energetic plot to the Vancouver story that animates the past, present and future of the city. Conversation is echoed throughout the exhibition and there are ample opportunities for visitors to engage with the historical content being displayed.

Musqueam exhibition wins Governor General's History Award

Myles Constable's picture

Today was a very special day for the team that created c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City. The collaborative series of exhibitions was recognized at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, where the curators were presented with  the 2015 Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums, by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.

The award recognizes individuals or institutions that have made remarkable contributions to a better knowledge of Canadian history. This year’s winning project is c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City. The exhibition tells the story of c̓əsnaʔəm, one of the largest ancient Musqueam villages and burial sites upon which Vancouver was built. It was jointly curated by the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) in collaboration with the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC, Musqueam First Nation, and Susan Roy from the University of Waterloo.

“Winning such a prestigious national award is a testament to the hard work, creativity and perseverance of the curatorial teams,” says Nancy Noble, CEO of MOV. “This important exhibition has allowed the Museum to confront its own colonial past, acknowledging the actions of our predecessors and hopefully, in some small way, reconciling the many misconceptions about the Musqueam people, their history and their continued contributions to Vancouver and Canadian society.”

The three-location exhibition intends to generate public discussion about indigenous history, and to raise awareness of the significance of c̓əsnaʔəm for the Musqueam people and for Vancouver. The ancient village of c̓əsnaʔəm was founded about 5,000 years ago at what was then the mouth of the Fraser—the southern border of today’s Marpole neighbourhood.

“c̓əsnaʔəm was a place where families lived and put their people to rest and was a sophisticated society. That’s why the exhibit is called ‘The City Before the City,’ says Jordan Wilson of the MOA and co-curator of the exhibition. “All too often there’s a picture painted of these villages as quite small and primitive, but in fact it was quite a large site, and the Musqueam people played a significant role in shaping the City of Vancouver.”

“Museums are no longer just passive buildings that store old objects. They play an active role in sharing new knowledge,” says Janet Walker, President and CEO of Canada’s History Society, which administers the award. “c̓əsnaʔəm, The City Before the City is a perfect example of how a museum exhibition can counter an existing narrative—that Vancouver is a young city of immigrants—and replace it with a more truthful version of events. In this way, museums help shape our future as well as our past.”

The joint exhibition opened earlier this year at the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology and the Musqueam Cultural Centre, and continues through January 2016. Each location explores different aspects of c̓əsnaʔəm, through artifacts—collected mainly in the 1920s and ‘30s—and new technologies such as 3-D printing.

You can find more information about the exhibition at www.thecitybeforethecity.com.

Multi-site exhibition project on Musqueam culture wins Canadian Historical Association Public History Prize

Myles Constable's picture

The Canadian Committee on Public History awarded its 5th annual Public History Prize Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association in Ottawa. The winning project emerged from a curatorial partnership between the Museum of Vancouver, Museum of Anthropology, University of Waterloo, and Musqueam Nation. The collaboration culminated with the creation of əsnaʔәm: the city before the city, a multi-site exhibition project.

This multi-disciplinary, community-based Indigenous research project resulted in a series of three museum exhibitions (all currently on display) at the Museum of Vancouver (2015-2020), Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia (2015-2016), and Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre (2015-2016).

c̓əsnaʔәm: the city before the city examines the history of Vancouver from the point of view of the Musqueam First Nation. It brings a critical history of city building, colonialism and dispossession, museum collecting practices, and Indigenous activism to public audiences. The project also engages many varied groups in discussions about conflicting and complex interpretations of Indigenous history and heritage sites as well as current debates about heritage and development in the city.

As Musqueam cultural advisor Larry Grant explains, “c̓əsnaʔәm: the city before the city aims at ‘righting history’ by creating a space for Musqueam to share their knowledge, culture and history and to highlight the community’s role in shaping the City of Vancouver.”

“We are thrilled that the committee has recognized this project as an example of innovative scholarship and public engagement,” says Susan Roy, historian at the University of Waterloo and MOV guest curator.

The award recognizes work that achieves high standards of original research, scholarship, and presentation; brings an innovative public history contribution to its audience; and serves as a model for future work, advancing the field of public history in Canada.

Upon accepting the award in Ottawa, Roy shared, "The c̓əsnaʔәm exhibition team is honoured to receive this acknowledgement that recognizes the importance of developing highly collaborative curatorial practices to reflect and promote new understanding of Indigenous history in Canada."

More information about the c̓əsnaʔәm: the city before the city exhibitions can view found here: www.thecitybeforethecity.com.

More information about past Public History Prize winners can be viewed here: http://www.cha-shc.ca/english/what-we-do/cha-prizes/public-history-prize.html#sthash.h4gwPXSu.LEMb9OLQ.dpbs

Music fused with fashion took centre stage in retro concert

Harkening back to a bygone era: Haunting melodies performed at MOV on January 17th, 2015.

Ever want to escape today’s hustle and bustle to a slower more romantic time? Vocalist Patricia Hammond charmed us with her pre and post war era tunes, bringing a poised and elegant presence to the stage. Patricia and guitar accompanist Budge Schachte have a soulful chemistry — evermore so when it was revealed to the audience that they met in person for the first time the day before!

The first half of this MOV event included a selection of 1940s tunes that brought out the hardships and far away travels of these war times when soldiers left their families and lovers behind. Patricia encouraged the audience to join in with “You’ll get used to it”, “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye!” and “Will meet again some sunny day”.

After a costume change to a more whimsical dress, appropriate for the 1950s post war era, the second half of the show brought a feeling of letting go with songs such as, “This is my lovely day” and “Enjoy yourself.”  “Far away places with strange sounding names” had an emotional resonance that reminded me of adventurous train travels in Europe.

Quite the conversationalist, Patricia revealed her passion for collecting sheet music. She discovered “She wears red feathers and a hootie hootie skirt” at Carillon Music in Vancouver, and performed it for the first time this night, with charm and grace.

Patricia’s 1950s dress had a playful fabric, which swayed as she sang and danced.

She revealed that it was a reproduction designed by Vivien of Holloway, and amusingly mentioned that certain songs tickled the bones of this dress, acting as an “imaginary singing teacher” as she sang. 

To see more dresses from the 1940s and 1950s, visit MOV’s From Rationing to Ravishing Exhibition through March 8th 2015!

 

Sing Along with Patricia Hammond: An evening of music to take you back in time

Transport yourself back in time with a retro musical performance from London England singer Patricia Hammond and accompanying guitarist Budge Schachte. Experience a lyrical journey of wartime and postwar era tunes that will trigger your imagination as you stroll through MOV’s Rationing to Ravishing The Transformation of Women’s Clothing in the 1940s and 1950s  exhibition—free admission with your paid ticket!

After the concert, come explore more than 80 garments presented in the gallery spaces from cocktail dresses to jumpsuits to wartime wedding dresses and much more this Saturday, January 17th from 7:00 to 8:30pm at MOV. A cash bar will be available on site to enhance your evening’s enjoyment!

For further ticket and event information please visit http://www.museumofvancouver.ca/programs/calendar

Museum of Vancouver celebrates 120 years

Myles Constable's picture

Today the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) reaches a major milestone, as a collector of precious artifacts from around the world and the protector of Vancouver’s past. In recognition of 120 years, MOV will host a celebration on May 29th when admission will be $1.20 (always free for members). Following the Annual General Meeting that evening, birthday cake will be served and BC Place will be lit in the Museum’s colours.

MOV’s celebration will continue on their social media channels with photos of artifacts representing 120 years of accessions, shared daily at 1:20pm. Check out this timeline of artifacts that were acquired into our collection.

MOV’s 120th anniversary is not only an acknowledgment of history, but of Vancouver’s history. As MOV CEO Nancy Noble explains, “In Canadian terms, we are an old museum with an old collection. For 120 years this museum has been the repository of the material culture and collective memory of this city. We are a reflection of Vancouver’s identity over time. That is valuable in and of itself.”

In 1894, a group of visionaries formed Vancouver’s Art, Historical and Scientific Association. Soon after, the City Museum was created at the Carnegie Library location at Main and Hastings. In 1967, the city announced the construction of the current landmark building in Vanier Park as part of Canada’s centennial. Designed by well-known architect Gerald Hamilton, the Museum’s distinctive dome top was inspired by the shape of a woven basket hat made by Northwest Coast First Nations people. In 1981, the Centennial Museum was re-named the Vancouver Museum and featured permanent displays, exhibitions and educational programs about the natural, cultural and human history of the Vancouver region.

Society continues to transform and museums have had to adapt to that change. In 2008, the Museum underwent a visioning process that resulted in a shift in focus, taking a cross-disciplinary approach and engaging the community in dialogue about contemporary issues of our city. To reflect the new vision, the Museum changed its name to the Museum of Vancouver in 2009.

“We don’t collect the way colonial collectors did, nor do we communicate information in the same way we did 120 years ago,” Noble explains. “As a contemporary museum, MOV wants to push the boundaries of our role. We believe that the power of history and collections bind the community together, but we want to go beyond that to engage our community in building our collections, telling their own stories, debating contemporary issues and hopefully shaping the future of Vancouver.”

 

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