I researched and wrote two historical articles for The Greater Vancouver Book edited by Chuck Davis and published in 1997:
The Origins of Stanley Park
Early Coastal Explorers to Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest
Mechanics at Coast Mountain BusLink (previously BC Transit) lovingly restored a 1964 GMC diesel bus. Because of its rounded windshield, it was known as the “fishbowl” bus.
Although the vehicle’s interior was in mint condition, the mechanics scrounged parts such as window latches from buses headed to the scrapyard.
As editor of BC Transit’s Transit Exchange newsletter, while working as Corporate Communications Manager, I wrote historical-related content such as this for many issues.
Click this Bus restoration link to read the article.
While in my twenties, I conducted an oral history study in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast. With fewer than 100 residents, this archetypal fishing village receives tens of thousands of visitors each year.
I loved meeting the lobster fishermen, shopkeepers, and community members in this tourist haven. Each views the impact of tourism in a different way.
My mandate was to document the impact of tourism on this much-visited coastal gem and write a report for the Atlantic Center for the Environment/Quebec-Labrador Foundation, based in Ipswich, MA.
Read my feature “Life in a fishbowl” [Peggy’s Cove, N.S.] (Atlantic Insight magazine, Halifax, 1986)
Photo of Wakami Lake log drive in northern Ontario, early 1930s.
The photo, courtesy of the late Alton Morse, appears
in my report “The Human History of Wakami Lake.”
After graduating in History at the University of British Columbia, I worked as an oral historian in northern Ontario for the Ministry of Natural Resources.My job was to document the human history of Wakami Lake Provincial Park.
It was wonderful to meet rugged men and women who had forged livelihoods in the challenging bush of Canada’s north.It was fascinating to interview old trappers, loggers, and prospectors and to document stories about horse logging and life in the bush in the 1930s and ’40s.
I talked to men who thought nothing of carving their own paddle if they needed one or making their own snowshoes. I heard tales of a foul-mouthed blacksmith who could create much-needed horseshoes on the spot in the backwoods.
I interviewed a retired fire spotter who pored over forests from an open-air plane in search of flames. I learned about forest fires and how German POWs in northern Ontario, put to work in logging camps, were popular with local women at weekly dances.
Besides writing weekly history articles for The Chapleau Sentinel, I wrote material for the park interpretive programs. Through theatrical reenactments, we brought the region’s characters of old to life, inviting campers to “meet” them on an evening walk in the woods. That work was fun. My research also provided background material and helped identify artifacts for the park’s outdoor museum.
My report The History of Wakami Lake Provincial Park, which includes excerpts from oral history interviews, appears on the website of the Chapleau Public Library.
- This SoulCollage card that I created,
which represents the historian part of me,
features an image of the first streetcar in San Francisco.
What is oral history?
This living form of history records people’s memories and anecdotes through sound (and sometimes visual) recording. It allows people to share their personal experiences in their own words, maintaining the richness of their language and unique forms of self-expression. It gives a voice to those who otherwise might not be heard.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY: Save your cherished stories
Consider oral history interviews. One thing that makes them different from regular questioning is the lack of leading questions. Unlike a reporter, the interviewer does not try to influence the subject’s perspective.
A great way to start: Dig out old photos. They will inspire great stories and bring back old memories. Don’t let those great stories of old-timers in your family and community disappear. Once they die, the stories are often gone.
For further information, try these resources:
For an excellent example of oral history, try the Foxfire series of books, one of the first popular series written. Each volume has a different editor.
In these engaging books, a teacher in Appalachia transformed his classroom into a collection of fascinating folklore and practical tips. He had his students share and record what they learned at home, from log-cabin-building and mountain crafts to faith healing and moonshine recipes.