Category Archives: History

A Historical Perspective

c;lick for larger picture

The other day I was listening to a Politician on the radio speak about a developing situation and what could be done to turn it around and fix it for the future. At one point he almost casually said “The regs say you have to use 6 of this but maybe we could reduce that to 3 – we’d have to look into it an consider all the factors but it’s something we’re looking at.”

In this day and age of big political winds of change trying to blow away both regulatory requirements and the documentation backing them in Washington I wonder just what will be left for review and reflection down the road as future decisions are made about ‘pesky regulatory requirements that hamper the ability of industry to function and prosper’.

That may be what is desired by industrialists and those they can buy but from a historical perspective, at least, it makes it difficult to trace the development and evolution of society and culture.

Back when Digital Cameras began to take off and replace Film someone opined that future archivists and historians looking back will see a dead zone beginning with the rise of the Digital Camera because most of the pictures taken with them never get printed so there’s no physical artifact to store away somewhere the way film photos have a film at least.

To some degree this is correct – how many people migrate their growing collection of digital media from drive to drive as time goes on? And those photos that were on that lost or damaged drive and only there – gone forever most likely.

This problem gives me pause for concern every now and then because this problem intersects with my life in a number of ways:
– I generate a lot of photos and videos – more than the average person by far.
– I’m involved in a number of history related efforts in the area I live in, most recently as President of the Boundary Historical Society but I also volunteer and work with the Boundary Museum and the Community Archives.
– currently I’m working with other members of the society in producing our 17th Report – a collection of pieces on the people, places and things that keep the history of the area ‘alive’,
– Every week I reproduce the two weekly newspapers from 106 years ago.
– And finally I am the semi-official reporter and recorder of city council meetings in my town.

And I put them all up on YouTube – thank you to Google for making that possible.

It is while wearing the hat of this last item that I write this opinion piece.

I’m not a politician. Not currently a member of any political party though I was in a youth wing of one of the popular parties in my youth. (then I grew up)

I do remember sitting in front of the TV as a child watching Sunday weekend roundup in Washington shows – can’t say why but they just held my attention. Might have been the oratory and passion, might have been the ideals. And as an adult I’ve found myself in a similar position due to a role I’ve had for the past 11 years; that of broadcaster of city council meetings.

I’m not a member of council or staff – more of their most loyal viewer in a sense. I’ve been at every council meeting since 2006 with only 2 or 3 exceptions.
And since 2011 a lot of those meetings have been recorded on the web.

Now here’s the historical thing about city council: there are official minutes, there are my recordings and there are news media recordings and reporting.

The official minutes do not record the minute details of discussion of things – generally it is a glossing at best with the essential details the only things recorded with fidelity and precision.

What the motion said and how the vote went at the minimum. Because of that brevity you have to look to the media for more detail about what took place.

The newspaper and radio reporters may bring their own audio recorders but they only share parts of what they get and usually a report on it – not the verbatim content. For that you have to go to my recordings.

Both the commercial entities and myself are ephemeral entities – we could ‘go away’ at any time and take all our files away with us. And that would mean the community, and any future historical researchers, would be the losers. It’s not the ending we would want and likely there would be a transfer of material if desired before dissolution. But events can transpire that foil our plans . . . so the archivists would be left with records kept by city hall.

This year City Council debated two changes to the way they do things that I’ve spoken against. (I can do that in the Committee Of The Whole meetings where the public can take part in the discussion and in the question period of the regular meetings).

The first had to do with a Code of Conduct. Essentially putting limits on how passionate or heated a discussion can get. Not germane to this article.

The second has to do with the Minutes and how they are recorded. Specifically the change is the remove the identification of who Moved and who Seconded a motion. So that the Motion and the voting results would be recorded but not those two items, Who.

There were several reasons cited in the proposal and they tend to sound reasonable . . . but from a Historian’s point of view it’s a lessening of the data preserved for the future.

Let’s say I’m trying to compile a history of the life of a prominent person who lived here and made contributions to the community over the years. During the time they spent on council I’d know what was before council, a distillation of the talking points and how the vote went.

Instead I see an example of how to say what happened in 250 words or less. The spirit and words and actions are mostly stripped away. The passion is baked out of it leaving the product of a body bereft of the attribution of who began and supported the topic to begin with.

Considering the rancorous history of this council in particular the contrast between life history before and after with the part in council might be stark. We show how X was passionate about all these things and their creation and execution but there’s this period where X is part of an entity that prefers to be seen as a neutral body with no individual parts. So almost nothing X said or did gets much mention in the official record. Except where X voted and some salient spoken points are noted. All the rest is dross. Not even fit to toss ‘cuz we didn’t deign to record it in the first place.

One of the points made in the proposal is it works against Grand Standing. Because we don’t want that in local politics . . .

Let’s address that, Grand Standing.

What is it? Why it is MAKING YOURSELF MORE NOTICEABLE THAN THE REST by standing out from the rest in some way. Taking an opposing stance and making a show out of it. Making a bold proposal and giving a big sales pitch to get it on the table (in the way that best ensures others will look like ogres if they speak against it).

It’s Politics. It gets in the way of getting things done. But it’s Politics. They are Politicians. At least some of them are . . . others are there because they really want to serve their community without the politics being a blockage. But it’s a Political arena, isn’t it?

Personally I think it gets in the way – but that’s me. At least we don’t have partisan politics in our city hall – yet. But I digress . . .

Without this information history becomes a little less clear to those who come later.
And understanding becomes harder.

  • Les Johnson (And this one is signed just to make a point about who said what, okay)

UPDATE:at the October 30th meeting council decided against adopting this change. So you will still be able to see who moved and who seconded motions in council.

Johnson Jeffries Fight Exposed Racism In 1910 Society

While putting together a recent teaser post for the old newspapers I also created an animated GIF showing a few small pieces from the newspaper. You can view the GIF here

jeffries_johnson_fight_noticesWhile choosing parts of the newspaper content to throw into the GIF I came across two small pieces regarding a film of a fight between a Jeffries and a Johnson. I assumed this was a boxing match but made a mental note to find out why this fight film created so much controversy.

And what I found out was Racism was heating the fire at the heart of the issue. You see boxing with gloves had only had 6 world champion holders before 1908 and all of them had been White men. But in 1908 a Black man, Jack Johnson from America, won the title in a match in Australia. As the story is told in this piece at the International Boxing Hall Of Fame this state of affairs was not liked at all by White boxing fans back in America. Johnson was vilified.

Over the next few years Johnson successfully defended his title against a number of fighters, all white, and the racists began to search for someone, some white fighter, who could win the title back from the not-white-at-all Mr. Jack Johnson. They called former title holder James Jeffries back from 6 years of retirement and the fight became a well promoted event. The white press promoted Jeffries and vilified Johnson in unprecedented fight publicity campaigns.

When Johnson successfully defeated Jeffries riots broke out in a number of cities in America . . . people were hurt – some were killed. Racism rearing its ugly head.

Were those in Ontario and BC trying to prevent the showing of the films of the fight doing so from a racial bias or a fear of riots and calamity or just anti-boxing activists seizing their opportunity? Or a mix of all 3? There’s something for you to research and find out if you’re curios to know.

You might have noticed the title of this piece is Johnson Jeffries but the actual content in the 1910 newspaper is the opposite. But Jeffries was the loser and the contender so why wasn’t it ‘Johnson Jeffries’? I’m no fan of the fight game and wouldn’t know if it’s contender first that is standard or not but Johnson Won so I’m putting him first. Personally I’m partial to the name myself as well. No relation though.

You can view a video about this infamous piece of sporting history below.


Permits Now (1910) Required To Build In The City

One of the items from the report on council meetings has to do with a change in ‘the way things are done’. If you had been living here in the previous 20 years as the city grew you would have been able to erect a building on your property without having to get permission to do that. After the council meeting of this week you would get a visit from the police if you didn’t have a permit. I’m not sure when the city got a bylaw enforcement officer but back in 1910 some of that was done by the local police.


In a previous post I mentioned that one of the items discussed at City Council had to do with Flyers (pamphlets) contributing to run away horses on the city streets. As it turned out the Mayor brought this before council for good reason as in the next week’s newspaper, June 30, there is a gut wrenching account of a local man’s slow death after just such an occurrence on the main road in the city.

You can read about this and more from 1910 on our Old Newspapers page.

Runaways Fly Into Council Meeting

horse_160623bHere is an aspect of 1910 life that we, in the 21st century, do not encounter: runaways on the streets.

When you read that statement what image did the word runaway bring to your mind?
A child running away from home?
A spouse running away from a marriage?

The runaways in this context would be horses and the most dangerous ones would be horse drawn wagons or carriages which, in 1910, would be fairly common on the streets and roads of Grand Forks.

Why would the Mayor be so concerned about them he brought the topic up in City Council in this week in 1910? Because twice in the previous week the streets of Grand Forks had been the scene of runaways and both times it was due to indiscriminate scattering of handbills, advertisements, by commercial concerns in town. The wind driven pages become animated antagonists to the horses on the streets and some get scared enough to bolt – dangerously dragging their loads behind as they flee to safety.

This also points out an origin story:
Why are those advertising things that clog your mailbox called Flyers?
Could it be because the handbills they evolved from were often found flying around after being discarded?

You can read more about the news of bygone days on our Old Newspapers page.
And you can read the pinned down handbills we call posters on our whatsupgf page without contributing to litter or runaways!