A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

A Third Intermediate Period Dynasty Egyptian Chalice.

A Third Intermediate Period Dynasty Egyptian Chalice.

Weekly Web Links:

Historical Book Review for the Week:

Stuff You Missed in History Class by How Stuff Works

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Well it’s hard for me to say for certain if I did in fact miss a lot of the information covered by this book in history class but I will admit that there was a lot of information that I either had no pre-existing knowledge about or  very little so the title ended up being pretty much spot on for me! I think what I liked best about this particular book is that, through the title as well as the tone of the content, it manages to cover areas of history that you probably really should have an idea about without being unbearably snide and condescending about the whole thing; there definitely isn’t any presence of a ‘well if we have to break it down for some members of the class’ vibe.  Which I appreciated since one of the sections covered by this book is the Spanish Inquisition.  You’ve probably heard of it; kind of a big deal, happened ages ago, in Spain, it involved an inquisition…that, in combination with a really short 1-2 pg. scene in ‘Good Omens’ by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (hilarious book, not exactly a noted historically accurate text) has made up the bulk of my knowledge for the past three decades.  So, while this book in no way covers all the details or delves into any sort of in-depth analysis, I now know something about what I think we all can agree was kind of a big, historical, deal.

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The Hasting Mills Store: Vancouver’s Oldest Surviving Building

Described poetically or dramatically, depending on your personal level of cynicism, as ‘the place where Vancouver began’, the Old Hasting Mill Store is the oldest surviving building in Vancouver.  While it currently sits on Point Grey at the base of Alma Street, it was originally located, at the time of its construction in 1865, on the southern shore of Burrard Inlet.

Image from  searcharchives.vancouver.ca

Image from searcharchives.vancouver.ca

Built for a British captain, Edward Stamp, as the base for his ‘British Columbia and Vancouver Island Spar, Lumber and Sawmill Company’ – evidentially with a title that long and descriptive he also wanted to ensure that there would be no confusion regarding the function of his company – this wooden building stands two stories tall.

During the sixty years that the store stood at its initial location, located in the center of the developing city’s logging settlement, it served both its logical function as a supply store for various materials necessary to the logging industry as well as a more social function of a place for workers could gather and gossip.

Another historical photo of the site; this one from www.hastings-mill-museum.ca

Another historical photo of the site; this one from http://www.hastings-mill-museum.ca

From the time of its construction in the 1860s all the way through the 1920s, the settlement of the area around the Burrard Inlet was closely tied to the existence of the Sawmill.  The people in the area shopped at the store itself and their children as far away as Moodyville on the other side of the inlet attended the Hastings Mill School.  After a second general store was built in the area the original building was first delegated as a storage facility before becoming, in succession, the city’s first post office, library, and community centre.  When the fire of 1886 occurred, this building was one of the few to survive the flames and, as a result, took on yet another role in the community by acting as a hospital and morgue for the victims of this disaster.

A more modern look at the building with it's snazzy colours. Image from www.hastings-mill-museum.ca

A more modern look at the building with it’s snazzy colours. Image from http://www.hastings-mill-museum.ca

Up until the time of the First World War, the mill remained Vancouver’s largest industrial enterprise but by 1927 progress and developments in the field resulted in the mill being dismantled with parts of its equipment being distributed among smaller operations around the continent.

When the mill closed down, the building that had been the Hastings Mill Store was uprooted and moved by barge to its current location at the bottom of Alma Street where it became known as the Old Hastings Mill Store Museum.  Run from that time to this day by the Native Daughters of British Columbia, the museum is still in operation today and contains displays of artifacts belonging to Native American, pioneer, and immigrant groups.

The plaque which declares the building to be a city of Vancouver Heritage Building, Image from www.century21.ca

The plaque which declares the building to be a city of Vancouver Heritage Building, Image from http://www.century21.ca

B.C. Industries: Coal Pt. 2

While the first nations groups of the area had been aware of what they described as the ‘stones that burned’ for a significant length of time, the early arrivals who began European settlement along the Pacific Northwest Coast would not become aware of the presence of this energy source until the midpoint of the 1800s.  The earliest mining of this fossil fuel at the Northeastern end of Vancouver Island by Europeans could have begun as early as 1835 where Fort Rupert would later be established but it wasn’t until 1849 that we have definitive historical evidence of this activity.

Miners hard at work. Image from www.empr.gov.bc.ca

Miners hard at work. Image from http://www.empr.gov.bc.ca

Prior to this point, timber had supplied an abundant amount of fuel for many activities of industry, however, blacksmiths required what was known as ‘smithy coal’ for their work which was import from England at a very high level of expense.  An additional demand for a more effective source of energy was also created by the introduction of steam powered boats which replaced the previously used sail method.

The Tariff Mine in 1897. Image from Wikipedia.

The Tariff Mine in 1897. Image from Wikipedia.

Luckily for the European arrivals they were directed to a nearer source of energy by the chief of a Vancouver Island first nations group.  The historical account states that:

“One day in December, 1849, the Snuneymuxw chief Chewichikan was watching an Hbc blacksmith at Fort Victoria repair his gun when he noticed the man toss coal on the fire. When the native asked the blacksmith where he obtained his coal, he was told it was shipped from England. The elderly chief was amused and commented it was silly to bring black stones from so far away when there was plenty where he lived. Company authorities offered Chewichikan free repair of his gun and a bottle of rum if he brought samples of the “stones that burned”. The following spring, Chewichikan returned in a canoe brimming with quality coal. The chief received his reward as well as a new nickname: “Coal Tyee” or “The Coal Chief”.”

This information came at a fortunate moment for the British as it corresponded with the decline of HBC operation on Vancouver Island.  This downward trend was created by a number of factors including the company’s inability to fulfill its colonial obligations, failures at earlier mining efforts, and the increasing threat of American expansion but a successful coal mining endevor would be an effective reversal of the economic fortunes. Therefore, James Douglas immediately ordered Joseph McKay to take a prospecting party and follow up on these claims.  They arrived in the area known as Wentuhysen Inlet which was located on the shore of the Nanaimo harbour where three coal outcroppings were found and which would end up producing millions of tons of coal over the following 28 years.

A 15 Minute Trip Around the World via the Internet

An Etruscan tomb belonging to a large family. Make a note, I will expect nothing less from my own funerary arrangement.  Iamge from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/105623553736575352/

An Etruscan tomb belonging to a large family. Make a note, I will expect nothing less from my own funerary arrangements. Image from Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/105623553736575352/

Weekly Web Links:

Historical Book Review for the Week:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

On a side not, this book is also one that has a cover which makes it impossible to misplace.

On a side not, this book is also one that has a cover which makes it impossible to misplace.

Basically, everything you need to know about this book is the following:

It is spectacular and everyone reading this should immediately drop whatever it is that they’re doing, track down a copy, and read it.

Henrietta Lacks was a black American woman who was born and lived in poverty for the entirety of her tragically short life and, for many years after her unfortunately early death, continued to be an unknown figure despite the fact that her genes have become one of the most important tools in the field of medicine.  Cells which were removed from her in 1951 during the attempts to remove the cancerous tumors in her body which would shortly after go on to take her life – and which were taken without her knowledge – ended up becoming vital to the development of the polio vaccine, cloning procedures, and gene mapping among other developments. In addition to her cells being bought and sold around the world by the billions they are priceless to the progress of medicine as well as the improvement of health standards worldwide. In glaring contrast to the contribution that her genetics have made to the world, her family still lives in poverty today and is unable to afford health insurance.  In this book, Rebecca Skloot does a phenomenal job of describing the progress of medicine since Henrietta’s cells were discovered to have unique properties while combining these important developments with the very human and rather heartbreaking personal story of Ms. Lacks and her family.  It provides a glaring contrast in the areas of ethics, race, education, wealth, science, and medicine and nowhere is this more clear than in the areas of the book that are focused around Henrietta’s daughter, a woman who grew up not knowing her mother and who no one ever bothered to explain her family’s contribution to the world of medicine explained to her.

B.C. Industries: Coal Pt.1

Next week I’m going to get into coal mining within British Columbia specifically but, while trying to write that particular post, I discovered that I know next to nothing about the mining and use of coal and so I thought I would add in a preliminary post going over the basics.

This is what coal looks like when people decide to make Photoshop improvements to rocks... Image from Wikipedia.

This is what coal looks like when people decide to make Photoshop improvements to rocks…
Image from Wikipedia.

Since the 1880’s coal has been valued for its energy content and used to generate electricity, particularly within the steel and cement industries.  While reserves are available in almost every county in the world, it is only mined in slightly over 50 of those although it can probably be expected that those remaining countries will be pressured to start coal mining activities in the near future.

Coal miners from West Virginia in 1908. Image is from Wikipedia.

Coal miners from West Virginia in 1908. Image is from Wikipedia.

Since its discovery as an efficient energy source, coal has been a popular choice in most countries of the world for several reasons:

  1. It is the cheapest known available source of energy
  2. It is an incredibly stable source
  3. It is often seen as benefiting the economy due to job creation

If the current levels of production are maintained, the planet’s coal reserves could be expected to last as long as another 150 years.  However, these production levels have never been especially stable and it is predicted that countries in Asia and North America could run out as soon as 2030. This is unlikely to be alarming to any of the world’s other miners of this fossil fuel as the vast majority mined is used within its country of origin with only an average of 16% being exported.  As of 2010, Canada was ranked as the 15th coal producing country of the world while ranking 12th in regards to the level of its reserves.

Despite the popularity of coal, and the benefits and convenience of its use for many countries, there are many dangers connected to it particularly when it comes to the mining process.

Mining dangers:

  • Firedamp explosions – there are several flammable gasses found in coal mines, the gas accumulates in pockets with in the coal and when penetrated the release of these gases can trigger explosions.
  • Coal dust explosions – the fine powdered form of coal which is created by the crushing and grinding of coal can become explosive when suspended in the air (it is susceptible to spontaneous combustion due to a higher surface area per unit of weight).
  • Chronic lung diseases – these are caused by inhaling coal dust and the most common of these are coal worker’s pneumoconiosis or  black lung disease.
Additionally, this image makes me claustrophobic just looking at it. Picture from www.kshs.org.

Additionally, this image makes me claustrophobic just looking at it. Picture from http://www.kshs.org.

There are also a number of environmental concerns involved in coal mining including:

  • Water pollution – water that comes into contact with the coal mining process (particularly during extraction) often demonstrates high levels of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.
  • Air pollution – the process of burning coal for energy produces greenhouse gasses and other pollutants including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury compounds, and nitrogen oxides.
  • It also significantly alters the local ecosystem and the connected wildlife habitats of the area where the mine is built with the introduction of road and clearing of trees.
A look at what the building of a mine can do to the local environment. Picture from appvoices.org.

A look at what the building of a mine can do to the local environment. Picture from appvoices.org.

All in all, I’d probably say that coal was an excellent source of energy historically but, with the knowledge we have developed and the technological capabilities we have access to today, its probably long past time an effective alternative was found.