Exhibitions + More

Highlighting student work

Posted on September 18, 2023 @10:29 am by cshriver

This summer, RBSC was delighted to host a class from Langara College studying the geography of British Columbia. The course, taught by Professor David Brownstein, included an assignment that tasked students with choosing a digitized archival item, describing what the object means to the regional geography of British Columbia, why is it important, and why they selected it. A few students kindly gave us permission to share their selections on our blog, along with short excerpts from their final assignments. Enjoy!

City of New Westminster, before the Fire

Selected by German David Gonzalez

City of New Westminster, before the Fire. W.R. Creech. RBSC-Frmd-Lscape-006.

The cause of the [New Westminster] fire remains unknown, but the catastrophe was of such magnitude that an aid committee was formed. The fire motivated the creation of a complete fire brigade and brought touristic growth for the city, which then started receiving more and more visitors who wanted to see with their own eyes how a place that was once devastated, became rebuilt.

Lake District of Southern British Columbia

Selected by Yat Man Lam

The Lake District of Southern British Columbia. Canadian Pacific Railway. The Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection. CC-TX-201-6-2.

This pamphlet featured in its front cover several well-dressed ladies and children enjoying their time in a picturesque countryside, the lake district of southern British Columbia, where there were mountains, trees, rivers, valleys and fields. It was produced by The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1920 as a promotional initiative to attract visitors to the stretch of land between the Prairies of Western Canada and the Pacific Coast…  The CPR’s success, achieved through collaboration with the government and resulted in its acquisition of 25 million acres of land (Eagle, 1989[1]), came at the hidden cost of displacing the Indigenous communities.

[1] EAGLE, J. A. (1989). The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Development of Western Canada, 1896-1914. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Indigenous People Catching Salmon

Selected by Jonry Ephraim Isla

Indigenous People catching salmon, Somas River in Vancouver Island. Leonard Frank. Uno Langmann Family Collection of BC Photographs. UL-1550-0002.

Understanding and acknowledging the contributions of Indigenous peoples is essential to grasp the historical and cultural significance of their presence in British Columbia’s fishing industry. With their deep-rooted connection to the ocean and its resources, Indigenous communities have practiced fishing for thousands of years, playing a vital role in shaping the fishing industry in the region. Their traditional knowledge and sustainable fishing practices have been integral to the development of the salmon business in BC. Figure 1 shows a rare photograph taken in 1910 by Leonard Frank, a German-Canadian photographer, which presents two Indigenous men actively fishing for salmon. While Leonard Frank gained fame for his extensive collection of photos, predominantly centered around industrial advancements and city life, he also captured moments of Indigenous life, making their activities part of his photographic legacy.

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Lessons from the Archives Collective

Posted on September 1, 2023 @9:50 am by cshriver

Content warning: The following blog post discusses homophobic attitudes and laws in a historical context.

Many thanks to guest blogger Matthew White for contributing the below post! Matthew is a graduate student at the UBC School of Information and has completed both a Co-op position and a Graduate Academic Assistant (GAA) position with RBSC.

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts that gives students and RBSC team members a chance to show off some of the intriguing materials they encounter serendipitously through their work at RBSC.

As a queer man, it was with a great deal of excitement that I was asked to finalize the processing of the Archives Collective collection at Rare Books and Special Collections. The Archives Collective, a predecessor of both ArQuives (formerly Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, and Canadian Gay Archives) as well as the BC Gay and Lesbian Archives, collected widely over their short tenure, much of it related to the deeply political lives of gay men and women in the 70s and 80s.

This collection was at times gut-wrenching in the displays of homophobia, at times brought me to tears because of the solidarity between marginalized communities. There were some consistent themes throughout the collection that I would like to share, particularly as they relate to queer lives in the world today.

The first thing I want to stress is that the RCMP and the Canadian legal system have never been friends to queer people, not to mention working people, women, First Nations, and immigrants. They will uphold whatever laws are in the books – if these laws discriminate against gays, so be it. The number of times that the RCMP overstepped by entrapping gay men having sex in their own homes, by keeping files on notable queer activists as potential enemies of the state, not to mention NDP leaders, prominent feminists or Indigenous activists, by physically accosting queers in the streets was staggering.

Obviously, queers did not go down without a fight – a fight that we are still fighting to this day. Gay militancy spread rapidly, with groups like the Lavender Panthers prowling streets to protect queer people. Protests were staged rapidly, and long running education or legal campaigns were effective in bringing these issues into the public eye.

It was not difficult, though, to see how these kinds of attitudes were maintained for so long. One pamphlet by the League Against Homosexuals (LAH) said, “Queers exist to seduce and pervert our children. Queers are sexually depraved vampires. If queers are allowed to have “equal rights” then they MUST be allowed to seduce your child.” I am still confused as to why equality necessitates molestation, but this was perhaps only the most glaring example. The Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun often refused to advertise for gay magazines, leading to a legal battle by the Vancouver Sun in the mid-70s that they won in the Supreme Court of Canada. It was noted that it might offend readership, so it did not have to be included.

An article in an unknown newspaper by McKenzie Porter notes “Many homosexuals are no longer satisfied with acceptance, sympathy and freedom from prosecution. They now seek approval acclaim and authority. The propaganda of homophile associations both female and male, reveals undisguised aspirations to political leadership.” Porter goes on to say that gay men and women are unfit for politics because of “a neurotic or psychotic state of paranoia associated, for reasons unknown, with a childhood history of anal eroticism.”

The Star, after being accused of homophobia, made the following statement: “… we stop short of encouraging the spread of homosexuality. We have no wish to aid the aggressive recruitment propaganda in which certain homosexual groups are engaged, and we strongly oppose those who seek to justify and legitimize homosexual relations between adults and children.” Like current legal oppression against trans people, children were often the basis of homophobic attacks. Other examples include a well-documented campaign by Anita Bryant to halt the gay liberation movement, by using children’s safety and wellbeing as the basis of her homophobia.

It was this kind of push back that brought gay people back onto the street, time and time again. It was a dynamic period, full of fundraising dances, highly publicized legal battles, and periodicals that discussed gay issues – anything from criticism of Marxist attitudes towards homosexuality to letters of support by brothers and mothers to their trans daughters, from rallies against racial discrimination experienced by taxi drivers, to graphics protesting the treatment of Indigenous peoples across North America.

You’ll also note the absence of trans people in my descriptions of the archive – they are, unfortunately, notably absent. Then, as now, often trans people found difficulty finding welcoming environments, and focus on liberation was often focused exclusively on sexuality without engaging critically with transgender or transsexual issues.

For myself, as an aspiring archivist and as a gay man, this was an incredibly enlightening experience. Many queer people have noted the generational absences that exist in our communities due to AIDS and other issues, including suicide and the return to the closet that can occur as queer people age. Being able to access so much of the knowledge and experience of queer people through the archive feels so important. These were people who knew what needed to be done to enact change, and all of that information is still at our fingertips. If we can’t talk to our queer ancestors, then maybe we can learn from what they left behind.

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Chung Translation Project: Chinese Miners in BC

Posted on August 15, 2023 @4:31 pm by claire malek

Dr. Weiyan (Vivian) Yan works as an Office, Copying & Shelving Assistant at the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at the University of British Columbia. She has recently been  translating descriptions of the Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection from English into Chinese. During this work, she highlighted a few interesting materials for the RBSC Blog. Thank you, Vivian!

This image shows how to switch between English and Chinese language descriptions in the archival database

Chinese Miners in 19th Century British Columbia

Item Title: Report of the Minister of Mines

Description: A report of the Minister of Mines on the mining accident of 1883.

Item Number: RBSC-ARC-1679-CC-TX-100-43-5

Chinese description:  https://rbscarchives.library.ubc.ca/report-of-the-minister-of-mines?sf_culture=zh

English description: https://rbscarchives.library.ubc.ca/report-of-the-minister-of-mines?sf_culture=en

View digital item online: https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/chung/chungtext/items/1.0356535?o=0

The report states that in the year of 1883 alone, there were 28 mining accidents. Of these, 12 accidents involved Chinese people, accounting for 42.9% of the total number accidents. One of the miners died, and another 11 were injured.

The report also indicates that in 1883, Nanaimo Collieries employed a total of 398 miners. Among them are 97 Chinese people, accounting for 24.4% of the total number of miners. We can also see that the salary of white people is $2-4 per day, the salary of Chinese people is $1-1.5 per day, and the salary of Indigenous People is $1.25-2.5 per day.

In Wellington Collieries, a total of 559 miners were employed in 1883. Among them are 276 Chinese, accounting for 49.4% of the total number of miners. Here, the wages of white people were $2-3.75 per day, and the salary of Chinese people were $1-1.25 per day.

A close up of the Report of the Minister of Mines.

A close up of the Report of the Minister of Mines showing the wages of white and racialized miners.

The report starkly demonstrates the living conditions of the Chinese people at that time. In an environment of discrimination, they did the most dangerous jobs, and were rewarded with the lowest pay.

This blog post is also available in Chinese here.

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Posted on August 24, 2023 @1:17 pm by claire malek




中文说明  https://rbscarchives.library.ubc.ca/report-of-the-minister-of-mines?sf_culture=zh

中文說明: https://rbscarchives.library.ubc.ca/report-of-the-minister-of-mines?sf_culture=en

在线查阅开放数据库: https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/chung/chungtext/items/1.0356535?o=0

編號為RBSC-ARC-1679-CC-TX-100-43-5 的收藏品,名為Report of the Minister of Mines,是一份礦業部長關於1883年採礦業事故的報告。




這份報告還指出,在1883年,Nanaimo Collieries共僱傭礦工398人。其中有97名中國人,佔礦工總人數的24.4%。白人的薪資為每天$2-4,中國人的薪資為每天$1-1.5,而原住民的薪資為每天$1.25-2.50。


在Wellington Collieries,1883年共僱傭礦工559人。其中有276名中國人,佔礦工總人數的49.4%。白人的薪資為每天$2-3.75,中國人的薪資為每天$1-1.25。





A close up of the Report of the Minister of Mines.


这篇博文也有英文版:Chung Translation Project Series: Chinese Miners in 19th Century British Columbia | Rare Books and Special Collections (ubc.ca)

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A croquet scandal!

Posted on August 11, 2023 @2:19 pm by cshriver

Many thanks to guest blogger Atreya Madrone for contributing the below post! Atreya is a graduate student at the UBC School of Information and is completing a professional experience with RBSC this summer working with vertical files, which are individual or small groups of archival materials.

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts that gives students and RBSC team members a chance to show off some of the intriguing materials they encounter serendipitously through their work at RBSC.

This summer I am undergoing a Professional Experience working with the vertical files at Rare Books and Special Collections.

Within the vertical files, I found an open letter to the All England Croquet Club written by their Honorary Secretary Walter Whitmore in the 1860s or ‘70s. Whitmore is responding to charges other members of the Club brought against him, including falsifying meeting minutes to make himself look better. This letter is so funny! Who knew croquet could be so scandalous. Check out the Tremaine Arkley Croquet Collection for other croquet materials here at RBSC.

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During Pride, reflecting on ASK

Posted on June 30, 2023 @3:23 pm by cshriver

Content warning: The following blog post includes mention of suicide and refers to homophobic and transphobic policies and laws in a historical context.

Many thanks to guest blogger Atreya Madrone for contributing the below post! Atreya is a graduate student at the UBC School of Information and is completing a professional experience with RBSC this summer working with vertical files, which are individual or small groups of archival materials.

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts that gives students and RBSC team members a chance to show off some of the intriguing materials they encounter serendipitously through their work at RBSC.

This summer at RBSC I am working with the vertical files for a professional experience project and I have found some extremely interesting materials. At the end of Pride month, I came across a submission to the Canadian Royal Commission on Security from the Association of Social Knowledge (ASK), the first gay rights group in Canada.

Within the file is a study conducted by the group where they sent out letters to government organizations with a brief questionnaire regarding the hiring of queer employees and the responses received from all across the country. Also included in the file is a detailed list of court cases against queer and trans people in Canada. One such court case occurred in Vancouver where police trapped 5 people in a bathroom in Stanley Park and ASK states that “there were suicides as a result of this police surveillance.” These court cases occurred in July 1963, 60 years ago almost exactly. The materials in this vertical file gives us primary source material on anti-queer and trans sentiments within Canada and reminds us that Pride is about protecting queer and trans people and fighting systemic queer and transphobia.

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“Vertical files” and witch trials

Posted on June 23, 2023 @12:40 pm by cshriver

Many thanks to guest blogger Atreya Madrone for contributing the below post! Atreya is a graduate student at the UBC School of Information and is completing a professional experience with RBSC this summer working with vertical files, which are individual or small groups of archival materials.

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts that gives students and RBSC team members a chance to show off some of the intriguing materials they encounter serendipitously through their work at RBSC.

This summer I am undergoing a Professional Experience working with the vertical files at Rare Books and Special Collections. There is a wide range of things to be found in the vertical files, including a copy of Helen Lawder’s witchcraft trial from 1662, which was transcribed in the early 1800s. Lawder was convicted of that “horrid, abominable, and damnable crime” and was to be “strangled at the stake till she was dead and then her body to be burned to ashes.” Myself and other student workers had never seen an actual trial proceeding for witchcraft, so it was a fascinating read – there are many wild details, so come by and read it yourself!

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“Like stepping into a person’s shoes”

Posted on April 19, 2023 @10:58 am by cshriver

Many thanks to guest blogger Marion Arnott for contributing the below post! Marion is a graduate student at the UBC School of Information and just completed a Work Learn position as a student archivist with RBSC.

What do a politician, a nurse, a road construction engineer, an exotic dancer, and a poet have in common? The records and materials of these interesting and diverse individuals can all be found at Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC). As my Work Learn position at RBSC comes to a close, I reflect on the variety of projects, materials and subjects I had the privilege of working on during my time here. The practical experience and exposure to archival work that I gained while working at RBSC has been invaluable to my own learning as an emerging archival professional and student at UBC’s iSchool.

[Scrapbook]. RBSC-ARC-1831-125-01

A common thread that I noticed while processing materials, and in conversations with colleagues, is the inclusion and elevation of women’s voices in the historical record preserved by RBSC. In January 2022, I completed a Co-op position at RBSC where I integrated the records of the British Columbia History of Nursing Society (BCHNS) Archives into RBSC’s holdings. Since that time, BCHNS had donated additional materials which I got to process as a Work Learn student. It was fun to see familiar names and faces of the nurses in the records and photographs. The origins of nursing in BC represents women emerging into professional careers and taking on leadership roles within healthcare and the community. As I arranged and described the Society’s records, which contain numerous biographical files of notable individuals who made outstanding contributions to the profession, I was amazed at the strength and persistence of these women despite countless barriers. The records bear witness to not only the history of the profession but also the community that developed among individuals through nursing schools, committee work, community advocacy, and professional associations. I especially enjoyed finding the scrapbook of photographs and materials compiled by the Richmond-Delta Professional Practice Group a sub-committee of the Registered Nurses Association of British Columbia (RNABC) in honor of the RNABC’s 75th Anniversary. The album is protected by a beautifully quilted fabric cover, which I feel demonstrates the care and commitment of these women to preserve and present the history of nursing in the province. Contained inside are photographs, notecards, invitations and other related materials of events, ceremonies, fashion shows, workshops, and other occasions that reveal a small slice of the extensive work of these women.

Westcoast Artists Engagement Contracts. RBSC-ARC-1846-01-12

Another women I encountered in my work here, was Rose Amann also known by the stage name Misty Rose. Amann donated a small collection of materials to RBSC which document her career as an exotic dancer in Vancouver’s burlesque and night club scene. While the records are predominately hotel and agency contracts, it was Amann’s biography that captured my attention. Her journey to becoming a dancer was so engrossing and filled with persistent determination for a career built on a personal interest and love of dance. Misty Rose’s life provides a glimpse into the history of Vancouver’s entertainment industry while also highlighting a very unique perspective not well documented in the archival record. Her biographical sketch provides extensive context to the physical materials.

It is these records and individuals that provide insights into the past in rather unusual ways that attracts me to archival work. Processing archival materials is a bit like stepping into a person’s shoes temporarily and experiencing their life through the records they create and receive. Overall, my time at RBSC has been filled with discovery and learning, and the projects I worked on only represent a small portion of the amazing materials and stories that can be explored in RBSC’s holdings.

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A valentine from RBSC

Posted on February 8, 2023 @4:24 pm by cshriver


In honour of Valentine’s Day, a poetic interlude from one of RBSC’s archivists, Krisztina Laszlo.


Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
We have some romantic archives for you!


To celebrate St. Valentine’s Day this year, please enjoy a few selections from our collections.

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“They also serve:” Honouring Alexis Alvey

Posted on November 1, 2022 @9:38 am by cshriver

Many thanks to guest blogger James Goldie for contributing the below post! James was formerly a student archivist with Rare Books and Special Collections and is now Records and Privacy Analyst with Douglas College. This encore blog post was first published in 2019.

“They also serve:” A. Alexis Alvey and the navy’s first female service members

Unit Officer A. Alexis Alvey of the W.R.C.N.S.

Her mother calls her “the Canadian lieutenant” and the girls in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service call her “Chiefie”…

So begins a 1943 Royal Canadian Navy press release announcing the promotion of Lieutenant Amelia Alexis Alvey to Unit Officer at H.M.C.S. Stadacona, a rank equivalent to that of an army captain. This new position – granted just a year after she first enlisted – meant Alvey was in charge of more than 1,100 Halifax-based service members from the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), known as Wrens. More than a third of all Wrens were stationed at H.M.C.S. Stadacona in Halifax.

Alvey (who went by A. Alexis Alvey) was born November 22, 1903 in Seattle, Washington. After completing her undergraduate studies in New York, Alvey studied science at McMaster University (1932-1933) and went on to work as chief photographic technician at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine. It was during this period she gained Canadian citizenship. After the outbreak of World War II, Alvey helped organize the businesswomen’s company of the Toronto Red Cross Transport Corps and commanded it for two years. She had also served as lecturer to the entire Transport Corps for Military Law, Map Reading, and Military and Naval Insignia.

Recruitment advertisements ran in magazines throughout Canada from 1942-1944, reminding readers that women could now serve in the navy as part of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service.

Men Can’t Do It Alone

In 1942, top brass in the Canadian navy realized they could not solely rely on men in their fight against Hitler’s forces. They contacted the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) in London requesting assistance in the formation of a Canadian counterpart. “Please send us a Mother Wren,” they said, according to Alvey. Those “mother wrens” were Joan Carpenter and Dorothy Isherwood, who came to Canada and established the WRCNS later that year. Alvey was among the first to enlist.

Until then, the Canadian navy had been an all-male service. As one member wrote in 1943: until the establishment of the WRCNS, “ships and shore establishments alike were manned by men, and knitting seamen’s stockings, or collecting magazines, games and special parcels for ships’ crews at sea was about the limit of any contribution made by women.”

Women were not permitted to serve in combat roles, however, they took over the navy’s on-land operations, which freed up male service members to join battles at sea. The Wrens worked as signallers, wireless-telegraphers, writers, information and intelligence workers, postal clerks, research assistants, cooks, stewards, wardroom attendants, laundry assistants, and more.

Rising Through The Ranks

A. Alexis Alvey (far right) with fellow “Wrens” at the W.R.C.N.S. training centre in Galt, Ontario.

In her first year with the WRCNS Alvey was appointed acting Chief Petty Officer Master-at-Arms. Her other assignments included duty as Deputy Unit Officer H.M.C.S. Bytown (Ottawa), duty with the Commanding Officer Pacific Coast H.M.C.S. Burrard (Vancouver), assignment as Unit Officer, Lieutenant H.M.C.S. Bytown, and finally Unit Officer to H.M.C.S. Stadacona (Halifax). She was responsible for training and running practice drills, developing policies, and meeting with officers from ships that arrived in Halifax.

She served with the WRCNS from August 1942 to January 1945.

The A. Alexis Alvey Fonds

After the war, Alvey returned to her home city of Seattle where she worked as a librarian at the University of Washington. However, she never forgot her time with the WRCNS. For the rest of her life, Alvey organized and attended Wrens reunions, she wrote articles and histories about the service, and collected all manner of documents, memorabilia, and ephemera related to the “The Women’s Navy” as it was sometimes called.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s certificates of service were designed with only male service members in mind.

These records along with Alvey’s personal papers and an extensive collection of photographs are housed at UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections and are available for research.

The materials that make up the A. Alexis Alvey fonds express the profound sense of pride shared by Alvey and her fellow Wrens with respect to their years of military service. An essay commemorating the WRCNS silver anniversary by Isabelle NcNair (née Archer) captures this pride. In it, a grandmother tells her granddaughter the story of the Wrens. “But Grannie, I thought Grandad won the war,” asks the child.  “No dear,” responds her elder, “I did.”

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