I’m a (West Coast) Womyn

A few years ago, I helped teach a drop-in jug band music program for seniors. The other teachers and I performed together as Dr. Phil Harmonic’s Jug Band on a few occasions. At one of our rehearsals, someone suggested I learn Maria Muldaur’s I’m a Woman. The original lyrics celebrate the joys of waking up early to do housework all … Read More

Siddown, Boys, Siddown

Unemployed men march during the depression

On May 20, 1938, about 600 demonstrators staged a sit down strike at the Vancouver Post Office, the art gallery and other locations. The protesters were men who had been unemployed and drifting for months, before Canada had any practical social safety net. The prime minister at the time, R.B. Bennett, was a millionaire who inherited half his fortune and … Read More

Booze, Liquor and Booze

For women, a tricky factor in the early days of Canadian settlement was the fact that they were not legally entitled to own any money or property if they married. Women at the time were more like livestock, a dependent child or a pet than fully human individuals with their own aspirations and accomplishments. In many cases, this was a … Read More

Ten Dollars

This story is based on an excerpt from A Harvest Yet to Reap, which is an absolute gem. One of the first books to explore Canadian history from the point of view of the women who settled here, this book is a collection of original letters, photos, essays, articles and excerpts with minimal commentary. While the prairies technically falls outside … Read More

The Robert Lowe

The Robert Lowe

During the American civil war, shipments of cotton to the textile factories in England ground to a halt. This resulted in a massive surge of unemployment among working class women in textile towns. Most tax funded social welfare programs were not implemented until over half a century later. In a world where the basic necessities of life could only be … Read More

Price Paid – Bev Sellars

Price Paid - Bev Sellars

Bev Sellars’ overview of West Coast colonization should be required reading in every Canadian high school. Drawing on her background as a law student, band council chief, BC Treaty Commission negotiator, and a member of a community impacted by over a century of racist paternalism, she has written a brilliant introduction to West Coast indigenous history. If you’ve ever stumbled on a … Read More

Gold Rush Queen – Thora Kerr Illing

During my research for the BC Folk Song Project, I’ve come across the formidable Nellie Cashman a few times. When I came across her detailed biography on the ferry, I’d already written Whoah, Nellie. The song is based on her daring trip up the frozen Stikine River in the dead of winter to rescue a party of stranded miners from the menace of scurvy. That … Read More

Quarantined – Peter Johnson

Life and Death at William Head Station, 1872-1959 Peter Johnson explores nearly a century of infectious disease management (and mismanagement) in Victoria. His insightful account provides background and context for the rampant outbreak of smallpox that wiped out a third of the indigenous population on Vancouver Island. I respect the fact that Johnson doesn’t sugar coat or whitewash the fact that … Read More