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Conserving Collections: BC History Digitization Program

In recent years, the MOV has received funding from the BC History Digitization Program, run by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC.  The aim of the program is to promote increased access to British Columbia’s historical resources.  For us, that means photographing the objects in our collection and making those images accessible to the public at openmov.museumofvancouver.ca.  This year’s round of digitization focused on objects from the Vancouver History Collection.  Two sets of artefacts in particular caught my eye.  They both involve long-standing Vancouver institutions (though one is now defunct) awarding their employees with jewelry for extended years of service.    

The first set, comprised of a tie clip, keychain, and a ring, belonged to Eric Nicol.  Though born in Kingston, ON, Nicol’s family moved to BC when he was two and he was truly a Vancouver boy, attending high school at Lord Byng and university at UBC.  After a few years away in Europe, he returned to Vancouver and became a longtime humour columnist for The Province, winning three Stephen Leacock Memorial Medals for Humour during his tenure. 

 

These three pieces were awarded to him by The Province; a tie clip for 15 years of service, a keychain for 20 years, and a ring for 25 years.  It’s unclear what company was responsible for the manufacture of the tie clip and key chain, but the ring’s history reads like a provenance hat trick.  Not only was it awarded to a Vancouver resident by a Vancouver newspaper, it was produced by Birks, which has, despite its origins in Montreal, over a century’s worth of history in Vancouver.

The other service awards the MOV has in its collection are from Woodward’s.  The company awarded its employees everything from tie tacks, to watches, to cufflinks and earrings.  Most of the awards in the MOV’s collection are for 20 years of service and the Roman numerals XX feature prominently.  There are a few tie tacks and a set of cufflinks, however, which feature the iconic script W that the company first started using in 1958.

 

It’s strange to imagine being gifted rings and cufflinks by one’s employer, much less working for the same one for over 20 years.  Much like being able to afford a house in Vancouver or making it through March without a rainy day, it’s not something that a lot of people see as feasible.   However, should anyone currently employed at the MOV still be around in 20 years, I’d like to see them gifted with our iconic white roof immortalized as a giant pendant from Birks, thank you very much.

 

The digitization of the Vancouver History Collection was made possible by funding from the British Columbia History Digitization Program at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia.

Museum Monday: The Pacific Press Chapel Slipboard

At the MOV, I work in storage. Sometimes I wish I could do this in the dark as there are some artefacts that make my imagination run a little too wildly in the wrong direction. I avert my eyes as quickly as possible when I am in the general vicinity of the following things: a Sto:lo sculpture of an anthropomorphic figure holding a salmon, a life sized papier-mâché sculpture of Mike Harcourt in jogging gear, and the mounted head of some prehistoric thing that looks like Jabba the Hut.
           
What I love to look at most, however, is always in my line of sight; our Curator of Collections was lovely enough to hang it on the art rack right beside my desk. It is the Pacific Press Chapel Slipboard (catalogue no. H2011.58.11a-x) and it is beautiful.

Pacific Press chapel slipboard

The term “chapel slipboard” is almost an artefact itself, a holdover from a time when labour organizations were largely illegal and union members met under the guise of attending “chapel meetings”. This particular slipboard was used from 1957 to 1997 to manage rights to union work for members of the International Typographical Union (ITU) working at the Pacific Press newspapers (the Vancouver Sun and The Province) in Vancouver. The slipboard hung in the Pacific Press composing room, eventually located on South Granville St. at West 6th Ave.

Though most workers at the Pacific Press belonged to the Vancouver Typographical Union Local 226, the slipboard system allowed ITU members from all over North America to find work in Vancouver. The travelling printer’s “slip” (a card showing their name and trade skills) was placed on the substitute board (on the right as you face the board). Regular chapel member’s names are shown in a separate area (on the left as you face the board), which was kept under lock and key. The chapel chair (union representative) operated the slipboard, which was used to determine shifts, days off, and vacations based on seniority. If a regular member wished time off, they could hire a substitute to cover their job for up to 30 days.

I love the visual history contained on this board as I’m sure union activity as described above is now conducted on a computer. It must have been very stressful as a travelling worker, waiting for your slip to be selected from the board and Mike Harcourt in paper machesatisfying when it finally was. It must also have been very satisfying as a regular member to see your name move up in seniority over the years. In fact, the names of the regular members on this board were the last members of Local 226 to negotiate lifetime employment with Pacific Press, a concept that today must sound completely alien to many ears.

Even if this artefact lacked such a detailed union history, I would still love it. It’s a stunning object, the raised brass letters casting slight shadows on the backing board which is painted a curious shade of Wedgewood blue. And there is something very romantic about a list of names kept under lock and key. I see them out of the corner of my eye every day, taunting my imagination to compose elaborate back stories for the men (and maybe few women) who would print the news for the entirety of their working lives.

There are some downsides to working in storage — there are no windows, it often feels cold and damp, and the spooky papier-mâché silhouettes of former mayors lurk around dark corners. It’s not too bad of a trade-off, though, getting to gaze upon and learn about objects whose lives are often much longer and more storied than our own.

 

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