A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

Who doesn't enjoy some good historical wordplay? Image from Pinterest.

Who doesn’t enjoy some good historical wordplay? Image from Pinterest.

Weekly Web Links:

Historical Book Review for the Week:

The Secret Museum by Molly Oldfield


The Secret Museum

On a similar thread to the book review from two weeks ago (Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects), this is a great book which covers a number of interesting historical objects in easy, quick-to-read, sections that make this a great read to have on to go alongside other books.

This particular book is unique in that it focuses on those items that museums have in storage on location, but which are deemed too fragile to actually be put on display.  Typically, these types of items are only seen by professionals (historians, academics, archaeologists, scientists, and the like) who need access to the item in order to contribute to their research or publication.  As a researcher for QI (a fabulous British TV show-everyone should watch it) the author was able to head into these secret store rooms and come into contact with a number of remarkable items that are kept away from public eyes.

Included in this book are a wide variety of items such as:

  • an original Gutenberg bible
  • Nabokov’s  collection of butterfly penises (and you thought you knew people with strange hobbies…)
  • a piece of Newton’s apple tree
  • an original draft of ‘Auld Lang Syne’
  • a blue whale
  • Harrison Schmitt’s Space Suit
  • and, my personal favorite, Van Gogh’s Sketchbooks

Now, I have to admit that this book does bring up one small issue that I am, personally, conflicted on.  For me, the whole point of historical items and artifacts (and, to an extent, museums) is to engage, introduce, and educate the public on the past.  Human history is something that I firmly believe everyone should have at least a basic grasp and understanding of; at the risk of going cliched, if we don’t know or understand the past then we won’t learn from it and moving forward becomes a crap chute rather than an intentional progression. Now I absolutely understand that these items are incredibly fragile and that storing them in this way, rather than displaying them, allows them to survive for that much longer which gives the academics and the scholars of the world further time to study and learn from them.  I also get that they then publish their papers and reports on these items which the public is certainly able to read if they are so inclined.  But, first of all these articles are often written for other academics, at a level which makes them inaccessible to the general public and secondly, no matter how remarkable a wordsmith the writer may be, a written report will rarely (I would argue never) have the same impact as the actual sight of these objects.

In this way, through its inclusion of pictures and a lack of scholarly lingo, Molly Oldfield has brought these unseen items as close to the public as it is currently possible to do so.

Gold Rushes in British Columbia

Between the years of 1858-1863, in the interior regions of British Columbia, there were two major gold rushes which played significant roles in the shaping of the province.  These rushes occurred one right after the other in areas which had previously been known as prominent fur trading territories and had immediate impact in that they brought thousands of prospectors and adventurers to an area which had, up until that point, been sparsely populated at best.

Rush #1: The Fraser River Gold Rush

  • began in 1858
  • brought over 30,000 people – mostly Americans who arrived looking for opportunities after the California Gold Rush had run its course
  • occurred on the shores of the Fraser River between what is now Hope and Lillooet
  • had the major result of having the mainland of British Columbia declared a British colony in order to prevent a loss of British control in the region
A View of the Fraser Canyon.

A View of the Fraser Canyon.

An illustrated look at the B.C. goldfields.

An illustrated look at the B.C. goldfields.

Gold Rush #2: The Cariboo Gold Rush

  • from 1860-1863
  • this rush had more Canadian and British prospectors than its predecessor
  • the commercial center was Barkerville
  • the major result of this second rush was the construction of a 650 km road from Yale into the Cariboo Mountains which would become a major transportation route during the later development of the mainland
The town of Barkerville, taken in 1865.

The town of Barkerville, taken in 1865.

The Cariboo Road, going through the Fraser Canyon. Photo taken in 1867.

The Cariboo Road, going through the Fraser Canyon. Photo taken in 1867.

One of the major downsides of these rushes was that they were directly responsible for an increase in tensions and conflicts with the native peoples of the region.  While contact with Europeans had been made years prior, this interaction had been in the industry of the fur trade.  In this capacity, the new comers had arrived in very small numbers, had a far more temporary set up in the way of isolated forts, and had worked with the aboriginal peoples using their knowledge and skills in order to increase their trade.  This was still an introduction that altered the way of life for those native peoples in the area but it was an arrangement that worked more along the line of a partnership where things may not have been entirely fair and equal but there were benefits to be had by both groups through the cooperation.  In contrast to this, the gold rush arrivals were operating on a far more personal agenda and these newcomers simply swarmed in and took over the area.

While these alterations absolutely had their negative attributes both for the aboriginal peoples as well as for the fur trade itself, they did prove to be the catalyst that propelled British Columbia forward.  The sudden and massive increase in inhabitants lead to a sudden boom in business for a number of individuals including farmers, merchants, hotel owners, and builders as the province began to take on a more modern appearance almost over night.

The Annexation Debate: How British Columbia Nearly Became a US State

In the final post of this blog’s breakdown of the general major sections of British Columbia’s history the transition of B.C from a colony of Britain to a province of the confederation of Canada was covered.  However, in 1867, there were actually three potential futures for the province:

  1. Remain a British colony
  2. Become a part of the confederation of Canada
  3. To be annexed and become part of the United States

In Britain, by many, it was actually hoped that the North American colonies would leave the British Empire including:

  • Admiral Joseph Denman who, when speaking to the Admiralty, stated that B.C. was undeserving of Royal Navy Protection
  • The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Granville, who said that he hoped that North America “would propose to be independent and annex themselves”
  • Finally, The Times which stated that “British Columbia is a long way off. . . . With the exception of a limited official class it receives few immigrants from England, and a large proportion of its inhabitants consist of citizens of the United States who have entered it from the south. Suppose that the colonists met together and came to the conclusion that every natural motive of contiguity, similarity of interests, and facility of administration induced them to think it more convenient to slip into the Union than into the Dominion. . . . We all know that we should not attempt to withstand them.”

In addition to this, there were several reasons why becoming an official part of the US made sense for the province of British Columbia:

  • Due to the gold rushes in the province, there were numerous American citizens who had made their way into BC and had settled in the area
  • With the purchase of Alaska made by the US in 1867, B.C. was now surrounded by American states along both the southern and northern boarders
  • Economically, British Columbia was essentially a satellite of the American west and the entire Pacific Northwest of North Vancouver, San Francisco with American currency in wide circulation throughout the province

Up until the purchase of Alaska, the British had, for the most part, been indifferent to the future of this colony.  However, at this point they began to pay attention and an increased focus was placed on the region as a base for imperial trade in the Pacific as well as the perceived need for a Royal Navy base in the area.  With the prevalent opinion being that British Columbia joining the confederation of Canada was preferable to British interests than an annexation to the Unites States and the majority of the British-born inhabitants of the province seeing confederacy as the better chance for maintaining ties to their native country, the general public opinion began to swing in this direction.  Opposing this move, however, was the Legislative Council of British Columbia which was made up almost entirely of annexationists including then governor of the province, Frederick Seymour.  It wasn’t until his death, when the confederation supporting Anthony Musgrave succeeded him to the position of governor, that the confederates received enough support to over-rule those in favour of annexation.

A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

And this is why we study history. Image from Pinterest.

And this is why we study history. Image from Pinterest.

Weekly Web Links:

Historical Book Review for the Week:

Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano


Mirrors by Eduardo Galeano

Described as an ‘unofficial history of the world seen through history’s unseen, unheard, and forgotten’, this is a remarkable undertaking which aspires to provide insight into every imaginable aspect, time period, class, and region in the world’s history.  While it is understandable that most books on history, whether they focus on one specific person or event or whether they provide a larger overview, focus on the major figures and events, it does mean that the vast majority of people, times, and occurrences are only briefly touched on in connection with these grander occurrences or else they are passed over completely. In this way, Eduardo Galeano has created a book which is remarkable for its uniqueness in covering everyone.  Essentially, I feel that his approach to this is something along the lines of just because someone’s contribution to the world and its history wasn’t impactful doesn’t meant that it wasn’t important. In a way, this book touches on the hope that I think a large majority of people have which is that what they do matters and is making a difference even if they aren’t going down as one of the great, memorable, figures in history.

As much as I enjoy this book, I do have two small critiques of it:

  1. The entries are incredibly short – there are as many as three on a page, which means that they are brief overviews only which, while interesting, don’t provide as much detail as I would like.  You really only get a taste of each person but to cover everyone who is in this book in detail would make for one massive tome of a read so I guess my arms appreciate that.
  2. In the attempt to cover so many people and groups in history, the book is forced to generalized ex) all black slaves who helped build the White House are one entry and, while they all would have shared aspects of that experience, there is no way that all of their lives were exactly the same.

To be fair with this second point, as we travel through history, there are a greater number of details and more individually specific entries as the historical record provides more information. It is entirely understandable that earlier entries coming from a time when the majority of the population was not preserved in records is forced to be generalized.

Overall, this is a fun read and the layout of the book is such that you can read an entry or two, move on to another book for a while, come back to this one, jump around through the entries, read it in whatever order you like, and finally take down a massive list of topics that you want to read about in greater detail later.

The Pacific National Exhibition: Since 1910

The annual Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) held at Hastings Park in Vancouver is, for many people in the city, a yearly summer activity as well as an experience had by a huge percentage of the tourists who travel to the province every summer.  In honor of this year’s PNE (which opened last Saturday) today’s post is going to take a quick look at the history of the fair which celebrated its 100 year anniversary back in 2010.  While the exhibition is, these days, known for being a family friendly environment filled with rides, games, shows, and food it was not always used for this purpose.

Inside the Exhibition/Industrial/Women's Building 1910. Image from windsorstar.com

Inside the Exhibition/Industrial/Women’s Building 1910. Image from windsorstar.com

At its inception, the Pacific National Exhibition, opened by British Columbia’s Prime Minister of the time Sir Wilfrid Laurier, was known instead as ‘The Industrial Exhibition’ and it was the second largest event of its kind in North America (behind the New York State Fair) with over 68,000 visitors the first year.

The Coaster. Image from velowbc.ca

The Coaster. Image from velowbc.ca

During its earliest years, the PNE was used predominantly as a showcase for the region’s agricultural and economic sectors but, over the years, it has undergone many alterations to its function as it has grown.  During the period of WWII, the PNE was closed and the area instead served as a military training facility while the PNE barns were used to intern and process Japanese Canadians from all over the province.  In the after-effects of this event, the Momiji Gardens on the PNE grounds became a memorial and a reminder of this unfortunate period in Canadian history.

The PNE has seen many historical events over its run such as the introduction of the first rotary phone in the Pacific Northwest.  It has also allowed for the creation of a number of award-winning shows which were created specifically for the fair. These include:

  • Cirque Pop
  • City Rhythm
  • Bring on the Night

As well as many of the largest consumer shows getting their start as exhibitions at the fair:

  • Vancouver Boat Show
  • BC Home Show
  • Pacific International Auto Show

Around the time of the fair last year (August 2013), two of the features of the PNE, the wooden roller coaster and the Pacific Colliseum, were named heritage sites by the City of Vancouver. In its current form, the fair runs for 17 days in August, during which time it typically admits over 900,000 visitors making it the largest annual ticketed event in the province.



Promotion for the first PNE. Image from www.theprovince.com

Promotion for the first PNE. Image from http://www.theprovince.com