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.
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 featuring Major James Matthews’ collection closes Sunday, March 19.
#OccupyVancouver. While protests on Wall Street continue, actions are spreading around North America and a demonstration is planned for Vancouver on October 15. While there's little indication that it has the potential of becoming violent, it seems to have the Vancouver Business Improvement Association worried.
The movement has Vancouver roots, though some at the General Assembly at W2 on the 8th felt that given the colonial history of Canada, "occupy" is an inapproriate term for the event.
Digitization. The Vancouver Archives describes some of the work and new challenges they're facing in storing digital content.
Building Vancouver has been posting some really fascinating material lately about the people who were involved with building many of Vancouver's historical buildings. It's worth a look.
Affordable housing. More this week about the City of Vancouver's ambitious plan for housing. Some of the strategies include a "rent bank" to assist tenants when they have difficulty paying rent, limits on profits in real estate sales and housing on city-owned land. But some caution that several parts of the plan lack specific information about how these things will be implemented and how much it will cost. City staff have also noted the difficulty they have had in moving the hardest to house into current social housing.
Meanwhile, another one of the city's 14 planned social housing projects has opened and the West End civic report recommends creating an advocate for tenants' rights and increasing green space.
Bike lanes. After a study last week revealed only a moderate impact on businesses, the city has chosen not to compensate business owners along the Hornby and Dunsmuir bike lanes. A disappointing response rate for the survey, as well as businesses' apparent unwillingness to disclose financial information make it difficult to find a conclusive link between bike lanes and a downturn in business.
Smelling vinegar. The Vancouver Archives shares a bit the process they use to rescue old film negatives from deterioration. The Archives also on HIstorypin now, so you can take a peek at what Vancouver used to look like.
Slow down, watch the... The City of Vancouver will be setting up a trial 30 km/h speed zone on East Hastings through the Downtown Eastside. The area is notorious for jaywalking and it's hoped that this measure will increase pedestrian safety.
Disappearing traffic. As Vancouver considers demolishing its viaducts, consider the Law of Disappearing Traffic: when a main artery is blocked off, traffic finds new routes.
Eastern Core Strategy Study. Erin Innes at the Mainlander reminds us that there is more to the Eastern Core Strategy Study than potentially removing the viaducts, as it's the last major parcel of land to be redeveloped in Vancouver, right next door to the Downtown Eastside.
LoCo BC is a non-profit looking to help connect local businesses and strengthen the local economy through buying local.
Why do Vancouver cafes close so early? Because people don't visit.
Image: mezzoblue, via flickr.
Earthquakes. This week the world has been witness to the devastating power of a subduction earthquake and it’s aftermath in Japan. But Vancouver is no stranger to earthquakes. What would it look like if it happened here?
While we’re on this topic, are you earthquake prepared?
Casino. Hearings at city hall about the proposed Edgewater Casino expansion began last week with 300 people attending. It seems the tide may be shifting in favour of the opponents, as council begins to ask tougher questions.
Taking aim at parkades. The Canada Line and bike lanes have succeeded in getting many people out of their cars, and fewer people are driving downtown. The result is an overabundance of empty parking stalls. What should we do with that space?
Panoramas. The City of Vancouver Archives is in the process of digitizing it’s photos and has released a set of panoramas from the early 1900s on flickr.
Bottled water. It seems Metro Vancouver’s pro-tapwater campaign has succeeded in convincing some people to ditch the bottle.
Back alley living. Take a look inside Vancouver’s first laneway house.
Music underground. What if we build a concert hall underneath the art gallery?
Image: City of Vancouver Archives, via flickr