Many thanks to guest blogger, Barbara Towell, for contributing the below post! Barbara is University Archives’ E-Records Manager and an enthusiastic collector of antiques. This post continues an occasional blog series looking at 19th century photographs of women and their jewellery held in Rare Books and Special Collections.

The art of framing memory: Hannah Maynard and the impossibly large brooch

Portrait of a woman, cabinet card c1890 [UL_2001]

Among the many items included in the Uno Langmann and Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs is this remarkable cabinet card created by Hannah Maynard, a 19th-century Canadian businesswoman, artist, and celebrated photographer. In 1862 Maynard’s business opened in Victoria in the Colony of Vancouver Island and remained in operation until 1912. Her clientele was said to be the well-heeled of Victoria, but as Dr. Jennifer Salahub tells us, Maynard photographed its inhabitants across economic classes (Salahub, p. 171). Maynard is most recognized for her experimental photography leaving her portraiture to be sometimes described as conventional. But in this image, I think Maynard achieves something quite unconventional. Crossing the boundaries of the photographic frame, something she is known for in her experimental photography, Maynard uses the subject’s jewellery to connect past artistic practice with the technology, and most importantly, the art of photography.

In this cabinet card we see a portrait of a mature woman looking at the camera. She is dressed in black, wearing a ribbon bonnet, a watch chain, and an impossibly large brooch. The scalloped edge of the card stock suggests a time period of 1890s but the brooch is from an era prior. The pin was new around the time known as the Grand Period of Victorian jewellery (1861-1885). Fashion trends during the middle part of the 19th century favoured jewellery large in scale. Brooches were especially popular and were typically around 6.35 x 3.81 centimetres in size, roughly three or four times the size of pins popular in the period this photo was taken.

The brooch is known as a Swiss enamel. Drawing on a tradition centuries old, Swiss enamels were admired souvenir items handmade by highly skilled artists. The mid-century’s custom for large articles of adornment provided enamel artists ample scope to create a window framing an idealized time and place. They were status symbols of wealth and most importantly, Anglocentric class-based concepts of sophistication that could only be achieved through European travel. For affluent 19th-century tourists visiting Switzerland they made the perfect portable keepsake memorializing travel while signalling wealth and refinement.

Example of Swiss enamel showing colour saturation c1860. Photograph used with permission from Nelson’s Rarities.

What this cabinet card cannot show the viewer is the vibrancy of the brooch. Set against the black backdrop of the subject’s dress, the decorative frame, its saturated colours and impressive size would have made it the outfit’s focal point. And while I am unable to enjoy the colours of the pin 160 years later, I am still unable to keep my eyes off it. But this, I believe, is the central point.

Swiss enamels are very much part of a world before popular photography and it was specifically the new medium of photography that  severely reduced the luxury tourist trade in Swiss enamels. In contrast to the Grand Period, brooch styles by 1890s had become comparatively small. This brooch is at least 20 to 30 years old at the time the photo was taken, even for a slow-moving colonial outpost such as Victoria, its inclusion seems somewhat odd; not old enough to be an antique, but not fashionable either. It is possible that the subject may have chosen this particular brooch herself without counsel from Maynard, however, photographic portraiture was a formal process in this period and the photographer’s use of visual support contextualizing the subject was common practice. The brooch’s position in the photograph effectively ties the subject to a bygone era. It is the key prop in this cabinet card and it is important that it be front and centre. The brooch’s centrality is the principle reason the bonnet is left untied, so as not to disrupt the viewer’s sight-line. The pin’s inclusion not only situates the subject in the past however, it also buttresses another narrative fundamental to Maynard’s contemporary artistic practice.

Portrait of a woman cabinet card verso c1890 [UL_2001]

Most other cabinet cards use either the back or the block at the bottom of the card to advertise the name and location of the business. In this example the company information along with the words, photographic artist  is printed on the back of the card. Maynard annotates the front of this card by hand, and that addition is unusual. She writes her married name, Mrs. Richard Maynard, and her occupation, Artist. Unlike other cabinet cards, Hannah Maynard presents herself not primarily as a photographer, but instead she signs the work as an artist. Maynard used her subject’s gender, age and symbols of class-based sophistication as a backdrop and canvas to draw a line connecting past artistic methods of recollection, as seen with the Swiss enamel, with the artistic and technical practice of photography. Maynard uses the brooch to bridge a conceptual relationship to photography but not to privilege the technology over the human hand. Instead she stages for the viewer a meeting between the artistry and status symbols of the past with the new techniques of portrait photography. In doing so she illustrates for us a lineage of remembering where the primary and central role belongs to the artist.


Works Cited

Salahub, Jennifer. 2012. “Hanna Maynard: Crafting Professional Identify.” In Rethinking Professionalism: Women and Art in Canada 1850-1970, edited by Kristina Huneault and Janice Anderson. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press.

Wikipedia. “Cabinet Card.” Accessed Dec 29, 2020.


Many thanks to guest blogger Brandon Leung for contributing the below post! Brandon is a graduate student in the Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management program at Ryerson University and completed an archival internship with Rare Books and Special Collections in December 2020.

A few years ago, I had what turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Rare Books and Special Collections. During my time as an undergraduate at UBC, I took a class about archives that had us visit RBSC every week to look at a different collection held there. One time, we had the chance to actually hear from one of the donors themselves, the late Chinese Canadian artist and activist Jim Wong-Chu. During that class, he talked continuously, without pause, about Chinese Canadian activism and history, an ability he was well known for. Afterwards, he showed us an album, titled Pender East, that contained both photographs and handwritten poetry. As a student who was, and still is, interested in the intersection of text and photography, this album amazed me. The photographs were skillfully printed, depicting people and places in Vancouver’s Chinatown, while the poems spoke about the Chinese Canadian experience. I would come away from this class with the album still on my mind and it unknowingly became the first and last time I would see Jim Wong-Chu in person. A couple of years later, I would find out that he unfortunately passed away. Yet Pender East still remained on my mind enough that over this past year, I decided to write about it for my final thesis paper for Ryerson University’s Film + Photography Preservation and Collections Management program, done alongside an internship at RBSC. In the following blog post, I would like to talk about some discoveries I made along the way. Though the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the middle of my research, I fortunately still found out several things about the album from a variety of sources, including Jim Wong-Chu’s fonds, YouTube videos of him and individuals who knew him personally.

Jim Wong-Chu, Pender East, photographic album, [after 1970?] (RBSC-ARC-1710-31-14, Jim Wong-Chu fonds, box 41)

Jim Wong-Chu created Pender East as a final project for his photography class at the Vancouver School of Art and Design (now Emily Carr University), which he attended from 1975-1981. He had started taking photographs before this point and said he chose photography because he felt he was good at it and that it was similar to cooking (he recently had experience cooking in Chinese cafes in BC). He spent a lot of his time in Chinatown exploring his Chinese Canadian identity and photographing people he knew or met in the community. At the same time, he was working as a mailman for Canada Post and I was told that he would take early morning shifts to give him the rest of the day to walk around Chinatown and photograph. He was known to talk to people he found interesting and get their story before asking to photograph them. Through his photography and writing, Jim Wong-Chu focused on a community he identified with and would become an important part of. I wanted to look at the album in the same way, as a work related to a very real community and not as the work of an individual artist. This led me to finding sources outside of the album, but related to its contents, to fill my research.

One interesting fact I discovered about Pender East was that it was partly a collaborative work, which fit into the community-based activism that was going on at that time. For example, the poems included in the album showcase this. Though Jim Wong-Chu wrote many of the poems (a few which would appear in his later poetry book, Chinatown Ghosts), one about a grass dragon performance was written by his friend and fellow Chinese Canadian cultural activist Paul Yee. Additionally, the poems as they appear in the album were handwritten by another one of his friends, Cynthia Chan. Both Yee and Chan are named in the album’s final acknowledgement page, though the nature of their contributions isn’t revealed in the album itself. Fortunately I was able to speak with both of them and learned about their contributions.

Information about photographic prints, especially prints made in the pre-digital age, can also be found in contact sheets and film negatives. The Jim Wong-Chu fonds contain a large amount of these materials and I was fortunate enough to go through a box of them. One thing that can be said about archival materials is that they provide material evidence of the past and this box of negatives and contact sheets provided material evidence for some of the things I was learning about Pender East.

By looking at these materials, I was hoping to find some of the photographs in Pender East within these contact sheets. Contact sheets are helpful documents of a photographer’s practice because they show single rolls of film on one piece of photographic paper. We can then assume that all the photographs on one contact sheet were photographed in close proximity to each other. For example, I found the following photograph of a man standing in front of an election campaign headquarters in one of Wong-Chu’s contact sheets (RBSC-ARC-1710-PH-2740).



I also discovered that this specific contact sheet contained a majority of images that were included in Pender East. By looking closely at the photographs, and from what interviewees told me, I was also able to figure out where some of these photographs were taken. The above photograph was taken at 107 East Pender Street (seen in the photograph), while a photograph of three men posing on the street that appears later on the contact sheet was taken in the 200 block of East Pender, a known commercial hub of Vancouver’s Chinatown at the time (as identified by interviewees). This material evidence of Jim Wong-Chu’s photography and his photographic practice corroborated what I had been told in interviews, that he spent many days walking through Chinatown, up and down East Pender Street, and photographing.


Jim Wong-Chu, [Two unidentified men and Charles Mow] from Pender East, [after 1975] (RBSC-ARC-1710-31-14, Jim Wong-Chu fonds, box 41)


Another striking image in Pender East appears halfway through the album. It is a close-up of a poster of Mao Zedong, leader of the People’s Republic of China, torn at the eyes, pasted onto a street pole in Chinatown. Through my research, I also discovered this image corroborated another story related about the Chinese Canadian community. In a video recording of a poetry reading Jim Wong-Chu did at the Roedde House Museum, he discusses the story behind this photograph. After Mao died in 1976, supporters of the People’s Republic of China put up posters depicting him around Vancouver’s Chinatown. Soon after, supporters of the opposing Kuomintang government (The Chinese Nationalist Party, based in Taiwan, who claimed to be the rightful rulers of China) tore up the posters and Wong-Chu photographed the results. Wong-Chu also decided to use this photograph on the cover of the first edition of his poetry book Chinatown Ghosts, which he said drew the ire of both camps. In his fonds, I found a contact sheet containing the image in question, plus photographs of other torn Mao posters throughout Chinatown (RBSC-ARC-1710-PH-2766). Again, his contact sheets acted as material evidence of Chinese Canadian history and, alongside Wong-Chu’s own story, gave me insight into another side of the community that I would not have known from Pender East itself.



By the end of my research, I had made many more discoveries about the Chinese Canadian community and Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1970s, too many to be fully listed here. Of course there are many more to be made and I hope my work so far can act as a stepping stone into more research for one of the most accessed collections at RBSC. I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to work on Pender East, learning more about Chinese Canadian history and Vancouver’s Chinatown and helping stoke some old memories.

(Through all my scrutiny of the photographs in Pender East, from my interviews and other archival photographs of Vancouver’s Chinatown, I also created a Google “My Maps,” pinpointing some of the locations where Wong-Chu’s photographs were taken.)

Many thanks to guest blogger, Barbara Towell, for contributing the below post! Barbara is University Archives’ E-Records Manager and an enthusiastic collector of antiques. This is the first post in her occasional series on jewellery pieces worn in historical cabinet card portraits.

Popular complications: telling the time

I can pinpoint the moment my love-affair with the past began. It was the day a trunk was moved from my grandmother’s house in New Westminster to our basement in Burnaby. The chest was the curved-top variety lined with cedar with a large bottom drawer. How long it sat in the basement before I uncovered its secrets, I cannot tell you, likely hours, not days. The weight of the lid…the squeak of the hinges…the smell of the cedar; that was the moment.

Item zero: watch found in cedar trunk. Fitted case not original to the watch. Image credit: Barbara Towell

The bottom drawer was where the treasures lay. The passage of time had dried out the wood, to open it I had to pull one side of the drawer then the other inch by inch. When I got it open, I saw hundreds of photographs. I expected to recognise my grandparents, my father, or my uncles, but in photo after photo I did not know a single person. Over the days, months and years I made my acquaintance with each and every face. Sitting in the basement studying the faces stored in the bottom drawer was a favourite childhood pastime. But the photographs were not all the trunk contained, there was another item hidden amongst the trunk’s contents: an old watch.

Sometimes I am asked about the first item in my collection of old things. Perhaps because I can recall the particular transaction so clearly, I have always answered that it was a Czechoslovakian glass and brass necklace from the 1920s bought for $12.00 at a shop called the Blue Heron. It is only in writing this blog that I realize the watch uncovered in the cedar chest that day when I was 11 years old was actually item zero.

I tell you this story because old photographs and jewellery introduces a series of blog posts I am writing looking at cabinet card portraits of women and the jewellery they wore. In these examples the ornaments displayed hold a central role in the images’ composition and meaning.

C.W. Van Alstine. [Portrait of woman]. UL-1734-01-0037.

Originally shot by Van Alstine photographers Red Oak, Iowa, the photo is part of the Uno Langmann and Family Collection of British Columbia Photographs. Cabinet cards gained popularity in the 1870s and 1880s and were an accepted and affordable method of portraiture. One can locate many such examples in this period of (primarily white) women in black clothes wearing a watch on a long chain. Dr. Annie Rudd describes this kind of portraiture as the social media of the 19th Century (Rudd, 2015). Rudd sees the carte de visite, a smaller precursor to the cabinet card, as a “socially sanctioned and standardized mode of self-presentation” (Rudd, 2015) and because both the carte de visite and the cabinet card were designed to be shared they helped shape cultural standards through their distribution.

All we can see of the woman’s outfit is a black button-down bodice and an odd-looking pocket sewed onto the front of the outfit. The pocket has not been sewn on straight, the right side is higher than the left. One cannot mistake the quality of the material and perfectly close fit of her bodice so why is the pocket sewed on in this way? Part of the answer is that the pocket holds a watch. Watches were very popular all through the 19th Century and women in the last quarter wore their watches one of three ways:

  1. tucked into a belt or a fit-for-purpose pocket at or near the waist;
  2. at the bodice hanging from a brooch watch chatelaine; or
  3. as we see in this photo tucked into a crochet or lace pocket angled with the right side higher than the left.

But why? The answer is for practical ease of access. The subject is right-handed and it is simpler for the right hand to take the watch out of the pocket on the left if the pocket is slightly angled. It would stand out more to viewers contemporary with the period if the crocheted pocket wasn’t angled. In all three cases the watch hung from a long chain called a muff or guard chain which was typically 154.4 centimetres in length (Cummings, p. 95).

The guard chain in the Van Alstine cabinet card is doubled under the chin drawing the viewer’s eye toward the face. Given this is a portrait the brooch and chain’s placement near the throat makes sense; it emphasizes the subject. Her appearance is not all we are meant to see; the draping of the chain draws the viewer’s eye to the crocheted pocket. The angle and texture of the pocket emphasizes the timepiece within suggesting action, functionality and matter-of-fact practicality on the one hand, and a modicum of affluent comfort on the other. If highlighting the face is the point of the portrait, the watch functions as a balancing counterpoint. Everything included in the cabinet card’s field of view was made by choice. The passage of time has undermined the clarity of photograph’s message, but her outfit and the simple yet meticulous construction of the image communicates middle class propriety and tasteful prosperity.

Cabinet cards typically include an advertising block containing the name and location of the business; indeed, advertising was one of the main objectives of the medium. They also promote a “carefully calibrated self-presentation” of the subject (Rudd, 2015). The assembly of clothes, hair and pocket watch work together as kind of visual shorthand for respectable middle-class conventionality. The actual material conditions in which this woman lived are unknown to us, but through the composition of the photograph we are led to believe that she has a comfortable life with places to be and appointments to keep!


Works Cited

Rudd, Annie. 2015. “Public Faces: Photography as Social Media in the 19th Century.” The International Center of Photography, Aug. 27, 2015. Accessed Dec. 26, 2020.

Cummins, Genevieve. 2010. How the Watch was Worn: A Fashion for 500 Years. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club Publishers.


Many thanks to guest blogger Brandon Leung for contributing the below post! Brandon is a graduate student in the Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management program at Ryerson University and has just completed an archival internship with Rare Books and Special Collections.

In the beginning of my internship at RBSC, I was able to first work on the Chung Collection, which I was interested in for its materials related to the experience of Chinese people in Canada. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 this project was put on hold as well as my internship. Fortunately, I have been able to continue my internship in the past few months with a new project involving the Uno Langmann Family Collection of BC Photographs, a primarily photographic collection. Given my background in photographic history, I was tasked in identifying the various photographic processes contained within the Langmann collection. Of course, because of the present circumstances, I had to rely on the photographs that have been digitized so far for my work, which is less than ideal (so many physical details can help you identify a photographic print!). Nevertheless, it still gave me the opportunity to look through a large amount of the different kinds of historical photographs held in the Langmann collection.

Flipping (virtually) through the myriad of photographs, I came across a series of postcards, one of many series of postcards in the collection, that were created by a specific photographer named George Alfred Barrowclough. According to Breaking News: The Postcard Images of George Alfred Barrowclough (2004) by Fred Thirkell and Bob Scullion, Barrowclough was born on May 1, 1872 in Birkenhead England. He immigrated to Canada with his family in the 1880s where they settled in Winnipeg. By the 1890s, he began working as a photographer and in 1904 opened his first photographic postcard business. In 1906 he moved in with his brother in Burnaby and even went down to San Francisco to photograph the ruined city after the recent earthquake. By 1909 he was living in Vancouver. The majority of his BC postcards were made from 1908 to 1912.

Barrowclough’s postcards piqued my interest for various reasons: one, I have become interested in historical “real photo postcards” (photographs printed onto photographic paper with postcard backings); two, most of the postcards in the Langmann collection are either created by photographic printing companies or unknown photographers (though other identified photographers come up such as Leonard Frank and Phillip Timms); and finally, many of Barrowclough’s postcards are different from what one might expect of postcard imagery. Many of his postcards do depict the usual touristic fare (city views, prominent buildings, Stanley Park), but, of interest to me, some of his photographs seem to have been taken surreptitiously or are subjects you would expect from a photojournalist. For example, a few of his postcards depict the aftermath of a streetcar crash into a drugstore and crowds viewing a Barnum and Bailey Circus parade in Vancouver (UL_1624_03_0040 and UL_1624_03_0043).

There was one of Barrowclough’s postcards that I came across which brought up some questions and associations for me. The postcard in question is titled Hindu Immigrants, Vancouver, B.C. (UL_1624_03_0052). In it, we see a group of turbanned South Asian men in front of a train station by the Vancouver waterfront (there is a ship in the background). Some of the men hold bags or packs. Others can be seen loading their belongings onto a nearby horse-drawn cart. We can tell the photograph was taken clandestinely; no one appears to notice Barrowclough. The photograph is composed at an angle, as if it were taken quickly and sneakily. Other observers seem to be present; besides Barrowclough himself (and now us looking at the postcard in the present), a blurry man can be seen to the far left in a suit and straw boater hat.

George Alfred Barrowclough, Hindu Immigrants, Vancouver, B.C., [between 1910 and 1920?], gelatin silver print (UL_1624_03_0052, Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs)

In particular, I was interested in why Barrowclough chose this subject matter—presumably immigration—for a postcard. Though photography’s artistic and cultural value can easily be seen today, as photographs are readily found in museums and archives, but throughout its history, photography straddled the fields of art, science and business. And certainly, Barrowclough made his photographs to sell. Why sell images of immigration? Why would people be interested in pictures of immigrants in the same way they would be interested in views of Granville Street?

Photographic history can give us an answer. Photography has been used to depict the “other” (oftentimes non-White individuals) throughout its history. Rising in tandem with 19th century European imperialism, photography was used to photograph colonized peoples as scientific specimens or entertaining spectacles for European audiences. As photography came soon after to what is now called North America, it was also used to extend the colonial gaze onto Indigenous and Native American populations.

In the early 20th century, when Barrowclough made his postcards, American photographer Lewis Hine took photographs of newly arrived immigrants in Ellis Island, New York to document the conditions there; German-American photographer Arnold Genthe took candid photographs of San Francisco’s Chinatown with an Orientalist and sentimental aesthetic. In Canada, Indigenous people would ask to be paid for European photographers’ use of their image, highlighting the power dynamics between photographer and subject. This relationship can also be seen in Barrowclough’s postcard. His subjects do not seem to be aware of being photographed, yet their image and status as “immigrants” were definitely being used and sold. Not many of Barrowclough’s other postcards depict the trade in images of Indigenous people, but the sentiment remains. White photographers and consumers of photographs and other visual imagery were interested in depictions of those different from themselves.

George Alfred Barrowclough, Where 23 Japs lost their lives in G.N.R. wreck, Nov. 28, 09, near New Westminster, B.C., 1909, gelatin silver print (UL_1624_03_0123, Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs)

This colonial gaze is not just apparent from how Barrowclough photographed these men, but also from how he titled the postcard, Hindu immigrants. Likely the men are Sikhs because of the turbans they wear, called “Dastaar” in Sikhism. Sikh immigrants are well known for their early role in British Columbia’s economy, especially as workers in wood mills. Yet to European observers, anybody from India is a “Hindu.” All Chinese immigrants were “Chinamen.” In a more sensationalist postcard, Barrowclough photographed the aftermath of a train crash and freely used a slur in its title: Where 23 Japs [sic] lost their lives in G.N.R. wreck, Nov. 28, 09, near New Westminster, B.C. (UL_1624_03_0123) Language reveals the attitudes of the time and the fraught relationship between “settlers” and “immigrants.” Of course, these relationships were all happening on what was, and is, First Nations land.

Canada’s creation as a “White man’s land” and Canadian immigration history also play an important part into how we read this image. Examples of Canadian immigration policy of the early 20th century reveal the power dynamics at play in this kind of looking. In 1885, the Canadian government implemented an immigration policy popularly known as the Head Tax. It forced Chinese immigrants to pay upwards of five hundred dollars to enter the country. By 1923, the Head Tax was replaced by the Exclusion Act that barred almost all Chinese immigration.

The postcard also reminded me of another incident in Canadian history, also related to South Asian immigration. In 1914 the passengers of the ship the Komagata Maru, many of whom were Sikhs, tried to gain entry into Canada through Vancouver. They challenged two existing laws aimed at stopping immigration from India, one barring immigrants who did not travel on a “continuous journey” by ship and the other barred immigrants who had under two hundred dollars in savings. Both laws were instituted in 1908, overruled, but then reinstated by 1914. Photographs of the Komagata Maru, its passengers, government agents inspecting the ship and on-shore onlookers also exist, but this passing interest in these South Asian immigrants also did not benefit them. After about a month in Vancouver’s harbor, the Komagata Maru was forced to turn back. Some of its passengers were met with deadly force from British Officers upon their return to India.

Photographs are never just pictures, just as archives or collections are never neutral. Images are a construction of the time period they were created in. Even the most innocent-looking or everyday images can tell us more about their creators or remind us of how loaded with meaning and connotations they are. Coming across an image like Hindu Immigrants reminds us of the history of this unceded land and the people who have passed through it.

1919 guide to British Columbia

Many thanks to guest blogger Emily Homolka for contributing the below post! Emily completed her MLIS degree from UBC’s iSchool (School of Library, Archival and Information Studies) in May 2020. She is currently project archivist for the Nilekiwe Yesilawiwaci Sharing History project with the Shawnee Tribe Cultural Center.

I’m very pleased to introduce my digital exhibit, Ghost Towns in British Columbia, curated using some of the archival and historical holdings of Rare Books and Special Collections!

Ghost Towns in British Columbia explores some of the themes of emergence, daily life, and sudden (or eventual) disappearances of towns in British Columbia, looking briefly at the rise and decline of Anyox, Phoenix, and Sandon. Through those towns and through the holdings of RBSC, this exhibit looks at the broader phenomena of ghost towns, considering their connection to history, memory, and memory institutions, such as libraries, museums, and archives.

I first became interested in the idea of ghost towns in 2019, when I spent the summer working with a project called “Digitized Okanagan History” (since rebranded as British Columbia Regional Digitized History), which digitizes local archival and historical materials in Kelowna, a city in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. As I worked, I would often come across photographs of towns that, when I searched for them, would only show up in a Wikipedia page about ghost towns in British Columbia or briefly mentioned in a travel pamphlet. I became fascinated with the idea that I was seeing a glimpse of a place that no longer exists, and that I would not have known ever existed before I found traces of them buried in the archives.

Sandon after the big fire

Ghost towns are by their very nature ephemeral, there and then gone, sometimes leaving behind scant amounts of information or the remains of building, sometimes getting repurposed (for good or for ill) decades after the end of the town, sometimes leaving behind nothing at all except memories and a romantic notion of what the town used to be. Exploring the collections at RBSC to see what information has been left behind and thinking about how that information shapes the modern day understanding of ghost towns has been an incredibly rewarding and fascinating experience. Through my exhibit, I hope I show what it is about ghost towns that has so captured my own imagination and to spark a similar interest in my readers!

I hope you enjoy the exhibition Ghost Towns in British Columbia!

This exhibit was possible due to the feedback and support that I received from Erik Kwakkel and Chelsea Shriver, as well as Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library that was so generous with my use of the archival materials. Thank you also to the Uno Langmann Family and to Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung, whose donations made this exhibit possible.

Show and Tell: Selections from our Personal Archives and Libraries

How we remember, and what we hold dear, differs from person to person. All of us have personal archives we keep to preserve memories that are precious, that document our families, our histories and record important events. It could be a simple piece of ephemera we love and cannot part with (a ticket stub from our first concert, for example), or photographs of ancestors that offer clues to our origins, or anything we have set aside and saved for a myriad reasons. Similarly, our personal libraries hold volumes that have emotional value to us, not just for the words contained in it, but as a reflection of a time in our lives, we found them particularly relevant. This could be the first book of poetry that made us fall in love with verse, or the dog-eared copy of a classic novel that led us to our current passion for libraries and library work. This blog series explores selections from the personal libraries and archives of members of the Rare Books and Special Collections team, and other colleagues from UBC Library and beyond. We hope our stories will help you reflect on what is meaningful at this time in your, and in our, collective histories.

— Krisztina Laszlo, Archivist

Ashlynn Prasad, Archives and Reference Assistant, RBSC

As a young professional acquainting myself with archives, it actually took me a long time to understand the ways in which the archival world had already touched my personal life. I started working in an archives at the age of 18, at which point older cousins of mine had already been entering what I would come to understand as archival spaces for years. They were undertaking a genealogical research project that would hopefully uncover who we were, who our ancestors had been, and where we all came from.

Nana’s Birth Certificate

The information that had travelled down through the generations about our family history was minimal at best: we knew that my great-grandparents’ generation had migrated to Fiji from India in the late 1800s. We knew that they had been indentured labourers for the British Empire, who held control of India at that time and were looking for a labour force to work the land in Fiji, another place they had colonized. The list of things we didn’t know was much longer: the names of our ancestors who had originally migrated, the name of the ship they had come over on, where in India they had come from, why they had chosen to leave their home for a difficult life of farming on a remote island nation that was fraught with sometimes violent tension between the colonizers and the indigenous community – and the list went on. Theories abounded in our family, particularly over the latter question. Our theories were mostly romanticized stories that we told ourselves, about ancestors who had fled India, perhaps to escape arranged marriages, with a secret lover, in hopes for more freedom in Fiji.

Research on the part of my cousins and other Indo-Fijian scholars has provided us with a vision of the past that is slightly less rosy. In recent years, the term “indentured labour” has come to be understood as little better than debt slavery. And while we had assumed that our lack of information about our ancestors was due to an intentional effort on their part to hide information about themselves, it now appears that the true reason is due largely to the poor record-keeping practices of the British.

A further complicating factor has been the fact that naming conventions among the Indo-Fijian community are different than what we in western society are accustomed to, and what the British record keepers would have expected. In Indo-Fijian society, there is no such thing as a family name. Siblings will often all have the same last name, but it won’t be the same name as their parents. Because of this, it is nearly impossible to track lineage through a family name. And because the British record keepers didn’t understand this, there is nothing in the records of Indo-Fijian immigrants to tie generations of one family together.

This is what has made the search for our family’s origins so challenging. The search has been a piecemeal collaboration of whatever information we can find. It has included scraps of records that we were able to find using the information we already had, such as the birth certificate of my maternal grandfather pictured above.

Aja’s Emigration Pass

It has also included records that were painstakingly dug up from the notoriously restrictive Fiji National Archives. In one instance, my cousin began undertaking research in the archives, equipped with the name of my mother’s paternal grandfather – he had dropped his first and middle names and simply went by his last name, “Gupta” (written by the British as “Guptar”). My cousin was able to narrow down his search to two possible records, but reached an impasse because he had no further information about our great-grandfather. The only way he was ever able to figure it out was by calling upon the help of the rest of the family: my mother, her ten siblings, and the twenty-eight cousins in my generation. It turned out that, years before, a great-aunt had visited my parents, had told a few stories and happened to mention the name of a village in India, which my mother had happened to make a note of. That piece of information allowed my cousin to narrow down his search to the record you see here: my great-grandfather’s emigration pass, which tells us his father’s name, his age when he migrated, his brother’s name, the specific area in India he came from, his occupation, and – perhaps most interestingly – his caste.

In some ways, the moral of the story had been in front of me for years before I even knew what an archives was: good record keeping matters.

[Letter, Charles R. Darwin to John Burdon-Sanderson, July 16, 1875]. RBSC-ARC-1731-1-22

In honour of Science Literacy Week 2020’s theme of biodiversity, we’re excited to highlight UBC Library’s two collections of archival materials related to English naturalist and geologist Sir Charles Darwin.

Darwin-Burdon Sanderson Collection

This collection, which was acquired by Woodward Library in 1966, consists of correspondence between Darwin and physiologist Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson from the years 1873-1881. After his medical education at the University of Edinburgh and at the University of Paris, Burdon-Sanderson became a Medical Officer of Health for Paddington in 1856 and subsequently a physician to the Middlesex Hospital and the Brompton Consumption hospitals. Between 1858-1866, he investigated diphtheria, cattle plague, and cholera when they appeared in England. He was one of the forerunners of penicillin, observing its ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria before Alexander Fleming. Burdon-Sanderson was also the first person chosen to be the Waynflete Chair of Physiology in Oxford in 1882. In 1895, he became Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, a post he held until his resignation in 1904.

The letters in this collection deal with the research Darwin and Burdon Sanderson did on the digestive powers and leaf movements of insect-eating plants, notably Drosera and Dionaea. Darwin published the results of this research as part of his Insectivorous Plants (1875).

Pearce/Darwin Fox Collection

This collection is made up of family records of the Darwin Fox family, most notably correspondence between William Darwin Fox and his second cousin Charles Darwin. The Reverend William Darwin Fox graduated from Cambridge in 1829 and was appointed vicar of Delamere, Cheshire in 1838, where he remained until his retirement in 1873. Darwin Fox shared his cousin’s passionate interest in natural history. In addition to being a naturalist, he was also an entomologist, with a particular interest in collecting beetles. He is credited as the person who introduced Darwin to entomology and tutoring him in natural history. Fox and Darwin had quite a close relationship, maintaining regular contact through letters. The collection was purchased by Woodward Library in 1970 from Captain Christopher Pearce, a descendant of the Fox family and resident of Vancouver Island.

Both of these collections have been digitized and are available in UBC Library’s Open Collections for your perusal and ejoyment.

Science Literary Week runs from September 21 to 27, 2020. For more details about Science Literacy Week activities at the Library, visit the UBC Library Guide to Science Literacy Week.

Show and Tell: Selections from our Personal Archives and Libraries

How we remember, and what we hold dear, differs from person to person. All of us have personal archives we keep to preserve memories that are precious, that document our families, our histories and record important events. It could be a simple piece of ephemera we love and cannot part with (a ticket stub from our first concert, for example), or photographs of ancestors that offer clues to our origins, or anything we have set aside and saved for a myriad reasons. Similarly, our personal libraries hold volumes that have emotional value to us, not just for the words contained in it, but as a reflection of a time in our lives, we found them particularly relevant. This could be the first book of poetry that made us fall in love with verse, or the dog-eared copy of a classic novel that led us to our current passion for libraries and library work. This blog series explores selections from the personal libraries and archives of members of the Rare Books and Special Collections team, and other colleagues from UBC Library and beyond. We hope our stories will help you reflect on what is meaningful at this time in your, and in our, collective histories.

— Krisztina Laszlo, Archivist

Eleanore Wellwood, Technical Services Library Assistant, Xwi7xwa Library

I have my grandmother’s recipe book (Helen/Ellen/Nellie Whittington Wellwood, 1883-1969). It probably started life as her mother’s (Emeline/Emily Tuffnell Whittington, 1845-1941). It was never pretty and now is falling apart and the paper is brittle. The reason it is a treasured possession is only because of how one recipe leads off into questions and clues about family history and local BC history and world history and the great unresolved Canadian culinary debate about the origin of Nanaimo bars.

Helen Whittington Wellwood’s recipe book

The history of Nanaimo bars is reasonably well documented (according those emergency reference sources, Google and Wikipedia). The earliest documented use of the name “Nanaimo bars” was in the 14th edition of the Vancouver Sun’s Edith Adams’ Cookbook (which UBC Library does not have). Many possible precursors have been proposed. Some even have a connection to Nanaimo and more specifically to a United Church cookbook from Nanaimo. But, as every reference librarian knows, it is hard to search for something without a known name and with nothing but common search terms, so maybe all the precursors have not been found.

My family history is also reasonably well documented but with unasked or unanswered questions. Emeline was born in the Southampton workhouse, a piece of information she did not share. She married William Whittington, a bricklayer from the Isle of Wight, in Chatham, Kent, England in 1868. They converted to Methodism and embraced temperance and proceeded to move north and to have children until ending up in Seascale, Cumberland, where Nellie was born and her father went bankrupt building the Methodist church there. In 1889, Nellie emigrated with her mother and four siblings to join her father and oldest brother, who had emigrated the year before to Victoria. After an interlude in Port Townsend and Port Angeles, they settled into the circle of Methodist, temperance-supporting builders in Victoria with their social life centred on their church. My father’s father, Wilmot Bryant Wellwood (1883-1972), was born in Wingham, Ontario where his family was on an extended visit ‘back home’ returning from a move, with stays, through Peoria, Illinois, San Francisco, New Westminster, Nanaimo, Point Atkinson, and the Naas River and before returning (again via Peoria and San Francisco) to New Westminster, Nanaimo, and, finally, Victoria. My great grandfather had many occupations but his strongest wish had been to be a Methodist missionary. Their social lives also revolved around the Methodist church wherever they lived. The United Church of Canada Archives in Vancouver provides more than enough evidence of both families’ connection to the church and how important its social activities were to young people in the early twentieth century.

My grandparents were neither rich nor poor. They had their share of family difficulties, including the death of both their fathers in 1912 and the ‘sharing’ of both their mothers with other family members for many years. They had four sons, one of whom died at birth in 1917. My grandfather stayed employed during the Great Depression, weathered rationing and the death of one son in World War II, saw two sons through university, married and starting families after the war, supported relatives who had fallen on hard times several times, and ran a precursor of a Bed & Breakfast, leaving them frugally comfortable in retirement in the early 1950s. All of this creates the backdrop for the recipe book.

My recipe book is a book of mysteries. It might have been two books because there is a clump of lined pages with no red margin line still bound together but separated from the binding. Almost all of those pages are blank. There is another clump of pages which are still sewn in and with the red margin line. More of these pages have recipes until about halfway through, when it also goes blank. Together the two clumps seem to be a little too big for the spine binding and yet seem to belong together. There is no apparent organization. There are few dates (included by happenstance) and no page numbers. Like most family recipe books, it is a combination of handwritten recipes and loose and pasted-in newspaper clippings and recipes written on scraps of paper and envelopes. If there ever was an order to these, it is long lost. The handwriting changes, the inks change, some recipes are clearly written by others and some suggest the aging of the writer. There are snippets of things the owner wanted to save – hand copied or cut from a newspaper – now-or-always-corny jokes and inspirational poems and useful recipes for preventing hair loss. There are far more recipes for desserts than anything else. Most of the recipes reflect the limited range of available ingredients and a distinctly British palate.

Recipe for Chocolate Coconut Bars

Following the recipe for Dreamland Cake and before Unbaked Chocolate Brownies, there is a recipe for Chocolate Coconut Bars. In everything but name, it is a Nanaimo bar. My limited paleography skills lead to me to believe that Nellie added the recipe and that it would have been after wartime rationing, but also after her boys had left home, while her handwriting was still firm and steady but before the advent of ballpoint pens – or the early 1950s. It would have been the ideal contribution to United Church social events of the time. But, was it the ideal recipe before or after the christening of the Nanaimo bar? I do not know. All I know is that Chocolate Coconut Bars don’t appear to be one of the precursor names, and Victoria and Nanaimo aren’t all that far apart.

Summer 2020 has been a little different then other summers, but in some ways it is like EVERY summer. We are still going to the beach, travelling through British Columbia by car, gardening, boating, having picnics in the park, and spending time with family and close friends. We’ve adjusted for the current situation, keeping our bubbles small, but we are getting out in the sun, and enjoying ourselves with all the usual summer activities. As August comes to an end, and the school year beckons on the horizon, we hope you will enjoy this selection of photographs from summers past.

— Krisztina Laszlo, Archivist

Show and Tell: Selections from our Personal Archives and Libraries

How we remember, and what we hold dear, differs from person to person. All of us have personal archives we keep to preserve memories that are precious, that document our families, our histories and record important events. It could be a simple piece of ephemera we love and cannot part with (a ticket stub from our first concert, for example), or photographs of ancestors that offer clues to our origins, or anything we have set aside and saved for a myriad reasons. Similarly, our personal libraries hold volumes that have emotional value to us, not just for the words contained in it, but as a reflection of a time in our lives, we found them particularly relevant. This could be the first book of poetry that made us fall in love with verse, or the dog-eared copy of a classic novel that led us to our current passion for libraries and library work. This blog series explores selections from the personal libraries and archives of members of the Rare Books and Special Collections team, and other colleagues from UBC Library and beyond. We hope our stories will help you reflect on what is meaningful at this time in your, and in our, collective histories.

— Krisztina Laszlo, Archivist

Weiyan Yan, Office, Copying & Shelving Assistant

In her late teens, my mother was a nurse at a hospital in Xi’an city. After she moved to my father’s hometown – a small village on the Loess Plateau – she became a doctor and a midwife. At that time in China, people called this kind of doctor “Barefoot Doctor”. That meant they were farmers but they were also doctors in their spare time. Even I’m not sure about the qualifications. She said that she was “a flagpole pulled out from a bunch of chopsticks”. But as far as I know, she did a very good job, especially at being a midwife. I still remember that she had a red bag for being a doctor. It was the most important thing in our house and we never were allowed to touch it.

Chinese medicine bag

I don’t know how many patients she had seen, but I know that from late 1950s to late 1990s, she delivered most of the babies in our village, the parents and then their children, except a few that she felt should be delivered in the hospital. She was well respected and she became an older sister-in-law to many people in our village. That was confusing! They called her sister-in-law out of respect, and I called them grandparents or great grandparents because of the hierarchy in our society.

I have many memories from when she was working. In the middle of the crazy, cold, winter night, someone looking for my mother’s help would loudly knock on our front door or back door, or sometimes even both doors; everybody in my family woke up. My mother would take her medicine bag and leave with them right away. Most of the time, she would come back the second morning with a few thin, dry pancakes. I would have a piece of them and squat beside her to watch her washing her rubber gloves. I forget most of the details, and only remember that she turned them over, blew some air in, tied the open side with one hand, and squished with the other hand. It was so amazing to me at that time that the fingers would come out one by one with popping sounds. Sometimes my father might come by and offer to bite my pancake into the shape of a horse – I was born in the year of the horse. I was really happy at first and then cried when there was only a small piece left.

My mother was a city girl. After she moved to the village, she learnt everything about being a farmer, or being a woman on a farm. She spun, wove, made clothes and shoes for us. But the soles that she made were never good. She used a hammer to make them flat on a piece of stone.

I was proud of my mother, but not always. When she came to our school for the immunizations, I was always the first one to get an injection in order to set a good example for the other kids, even though I was also very scared. When she dressed up and played a bad woman on stage, I was so embarrassed in front of my friends. I wanted her to play a hero. But I never discussed that with her. I was a good girl at that time.

My mother has been gone for many years. Each time when I’m thinking of her, I always picture her with her red medicine bag, coming to me with a smile.

Natalie Trapuzzano, Student Archives and Reference Assistant

Stushie’s headshot in uniform.

I can say without any hint of humor or irony that one of my best friends is a ninety-three-year-old man. My great-uncle Stushie (Stanley, if you’re being stern) is my hands-down favorite person. A proud WWII veteran, history buff, perennial jokester, and armchair Jeopardy champion, he’s been the most consistent and inspiring man in my life. Even though he was a high school dropout, he’s the most intelligent and well-read person I know and always encouraged me to work toward the same. He bought me annual subscriptions to National Geographic and Smithsonian Kids magazines until I got old enough for the “adult” versions that he still sends me today—and no one leaves his house without a bag full of random items to go. He’s a bit of a packrat and his favorite topic of discussion is his experience in Europe during WWII, so he’s given me a lot of his military-related photos and ephemera over the years. He recently had to move to an assisted living facility, and I’ve been worrying about him a lot because of the pandemic’s impact on seniors in the United States, so it’s nice to have some of his treasures around while I can’t be with him in person.



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