Author’s Tent At Vancouver’s Word on the Street

Besides having a whole lot of fun chatting with people who stopped by the Room Magazine tent, talking up this really amazing literary magazine, I read along with two other lovely writers who have graced the pages of Room, Casey Wolf and Ashley Little.

The three readings differed in the themes, tone and content, however they were linked with the various stages of life, from youthful naïvety, to the convictions of adulthood, to honouring and grieving the end of life.  It was an honour to read with both Casey and Ashley.

At 4:30 in the afternoon, the bustling of the day’s events had quelled to a dull roar, and fewer seats were filled than had been just an hour earlier, but with the fluttery twist of nerves in my belly, I was okay with a friendly audience even if it was a little one.

So, since some of my favourite people were not gracing the white stacking chairs, I will tell you what I said — more or less.

Lorrie’s Word on the Street talk from the Author’s Tent:

Lorrie’s word on the street talk notes:

Seventy years ago fifty-five young men went down into the belly of a gold mine and then refused to come out.  They went down over 3000 feet into the workings of Pioneer mine.  They didn’t go down to mine for gold, not that day. February 27, 1940 was the date of Canada’s first sit down strike.  They where there to exercise their rights.  They were there to avoid further violence as they’d had enough of that.

The murder of union leader, Ginger Goodwin was still fresh in people’s memories, and so they were scared.  It had only been five years since the Battle of Ballantyne Pier where police gassed and beat demonstrators, and helped employers to run the waterfront with scab labour.   They still had good reason to not trust management, nor the police.  Premier Patullo was moved by this act of union defiance to send in 80 police into Pioneer war ready with gas and machineguns.  The area was described as being hills of khaki.

The first time I heard about this time, I was hooked. Though it was legal in 1940 for the men to organize, to form unions and to meet and negotiate with them, it was still resisted by many companies to the point that management would conduct surprise searches of homes looking for union membership lists.  It had gotten so bad that the wives of the organizers would carefully wrap the lists in wax paper, fold them up and then bury them deep of the swill of diaper pails.

You won’t find that fact in any union minutes, or telegraph, or other letter carefully filed in the archive fonds.  But I believe it was so, because my husband’s grandmother was one such woman, and it was she that retrieved the lists once the coast was clear, and it was her husband, Bill Cameron, that led the miners to their sit-down, and kept them hopeful that the strike would settle, that the ventilation wouldn’t be filled to gas them out, it was he, apparently that kept the men from blasting the mine to bits in retaliation for the beatings that they’d suffered.

Graham, my husband had been told by his grandmother about the strike, and how she had been on the surface holding the picket line with other miners, and other wives, waiting for negotiations to settle, waiting for the men to emerge.

This is what inspired me to write this story, Cadwallader Creek that will be published in the upcoming issue (issue 33.3) of Room Magazine.  It is also the first chapter of my novel-in-progress.

The one issue that I came up with this story is how do you write about your mother-in-law, and I came up with my answer, and that is to completely fictionalize it.  And that is what I’ve done.  Although the events accurate and the struggles are real, the characters are not; they are representative of character types of the time.

I spent a fair amount of time at the UBC archives reading historic minutes of union meetings, telegrams from government officials, judgments from magistrates, arrest warrants and personal letters; all this was revealing and interesting, but what I failed to find other than the fleeting reference in between the lines were the voices of the women.

One line in on particular interesting set of union minutes thanked the ‘fiery red-head’ for her efforts on the picket line.  There was family housing in the company residences and so presumably that included women.  In a local newspaper, there was an advertisement for women’s fitness class at the community hall, and so I know that there were women there, but what they thought about the strike, what their personal struggles and stories remain a bit of a mystery.

After searching more, I learned of British Columbian author, Irene Howard, who grew up in Pioneer, generously shared with me her interview tapes from some women who’d lived there in the early days.  Their descriptions are in her book, ‘Gold Dust on his Shirt,’ the tales of Scandinavian immigrant life in the beginning of the 20th century in Gold Bridge area, BC.  These accounts were most helpful in gaining insight to their experiences.  Though few of them discussed the strike at all, but I learned that kitchen cabinets could be constructed with the fine mitered dynamite crates, and that everyone had a silver tea service for hosting tea, even if they lived in a reclaimed pioneer cabin, it was just what one did, even if it meant laying out the tea service on a hewn table with an oil cloth canvas for the tablecloth.

These were great details, but I wanted to learn more about the strike, about what it was like to be afraid of your home being fire-bombed, to have your blankets stolen in the night to wake you up to toss you out of the residences in December, to wonder if your husband will make it out of the mine alive when the timbers failed and everyone above ground knew there’d been an accident, but didn’t yet know who’d been killed.  And more, I wondered about the struggle between the social classes, so I brought one of the two central characters from a privileged life and tossed her into the grand mix of it all—into the turmoil and struggle in these early days of the labour movement in BC.

And so this is where my story begins– on the picket line.

——————-

To Read my  short story, Cadwallader Creek, pick up a copy of Room Magazine at Chapters (I think), but your best bet is to subscribe on line!;)

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Filed under British Columbia, events, lorrie_miller, novel research, Room Magazine, writing

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