Remembering Joe Hill

November 19, 2018

Today is the 103rd anniversary of the murder by the state of the great Wobbly songwriter and martyr Joe Hill.

A minute’s silence, and then back to the important work that still remains unfinished.


Jonestown: 40 Years On

November 18, 2018

Forty years ago today, in the jungles of Guyana, an extraordinary event took place: the mass suicide (along with some murders) of more than 900 followers of the Reverend James Jones. Almost all the victims were Americans, voluntarily drawn somehow into Jones’ mix of mysticism and socialism, drawn somehow to follow him, mostly willingly, even over the cliff of death into “revolutionary suicide.”

More than half the Jonestown population were women, many with infant children whom they obediently fed kool-aid and cyanide on that last day, forty years ago today.

Cyanide takes a few minutes to kill and it is not a pleasant way to go. But if you are ever tempted to romanticize these deaths, perhaps it is best to remember the radical brainwashing needed to bring hundreds of mothers to the extremes of mass murder and suicide.

Jones joined the “revolutionary suicide” with a bullet to the brain, his ideas forgotten, his death glorified as a gratuitous cult. Guns and knives did for several more about whim no-one speaks.  Not many survived, not many at all.  The people fade into the background, but the event remains.


A Lifesaver — For Me and Millions of Others

November 14, 2018

Today is World Diabetes Day where we celebrate the birthday of the great Canadian scientist and Nobel Laureate Sir Frederick Banting who discovered insulin. He gave the rights away to the world for $1.00.

I am alive today because of the work of Banting and his team and it is good to have a day set aside to remember that.

William Hogarth: Charity and the Art Market

November 10, 2018

At HeniTalks, there is a fascinating 8-minute video lecture discussing the artist William Hogarth and his role in establishing the first public charity in England, and the first public art gallery.  Click on the image below; it is well worth the time.


I spent my early pre-teen years in Chiswick, Hogarth’s hometown, and we were taught that Hogarth was a big deal. So he has fascinated me for a long time.

The Value Of A Picture

November 3, 2018

I have on occasion made posts here requesting anyone with early pictures of Commercial Drive and Grandview to make them available for study by historians and those interested in heritage issues.

I’m not talking about art studies by famous photographers, either, but rather snapshots by locals.  If your Aunt Gertrude was visiting in 1940 to see cousin Billy’s hardware store and a picture was taken, that would be great.  Historians may not be so interested in Gertrude and Billy themselves, but what we might get to see behind them and beside them can add vital historical information not otherwise available. I’ll give you an example:

At the very beginning of 1936, the former Odlum property on the east side of the 1500-block Commercial, to the intersection with Grant, was being developed as a gas station for Signal Oil. On the other side of Commercial, local developer Angus Campbell had bought the two lots on the corner with Grant. On pages 86-87 of “The Drive” I described these building projects which were completed by May 1936.   And I included a current photograph of the Campbell properties:

I had no reason to think the building had been altered since 1936.  However, we now have a wonderful image previously unseen from November 1937 that shows both the layout of the Signal Station on the east side (lower half of the image) but also, at the very right edge, a slice of the Blue Bird Beauty Salon on the west side:

This photograph shows that those stores were originally built as single-storey structures and the building was modified and enlarged sometime later: something I might not have known without this image. I’m sure that when Edward Odlum took the picture he was primarily interested in the development of the Odlum lots on the east side, but his snapshot has also helped illuminate the history of the west side.

So, do you or your family have a collection of pictures that might be of interest to the Grandview Heritage Group?   If you do, please email me.  Thanks in advance!

Remembering The Invasion of Grenada

October 25, 2018

On October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada (“Operation Urgent Fury”).  The 1,500-strong Grenadian Army, along with 600 Cuban allies, were considered such a strategic threat to the Imperial Power that Ronnie Reagan sent in the Marines, lying through his teeth to his erstwhile ally Margaret Thatcher all the while.

Lest we forget:  opposition to the power will be crushed ruthlessly no matter how petty it makes the power look.

Laundry Then and Now

October 14, 2018

Today is laundry day in our household.  The Everloving — a self-described laundry goddess — loves to split the pile of cloths and linens into a much larger variety of “types” than the simple whites, coloureds, reds that my mother taught me, and using all sorts of settings on the machine.  Thinking of this got me musing about how drastically this particular household function has changed in the last 80-odd years.

Time was that the laundry represented a full day of  hard physical labour, one that most housewives faced each week with dread.  Today, that has all changed, at least in the westernized world.  These days, with automatic machines and efficient driers, each load takes perhaps just four or five minutes of physical involvement to load, unload and fold; the rest of the work is done by the machine and its software.  Five or six wash and dry loads can be completed with less physical effort than a single wash load (not including wringing and drying) meant to my grandmother.

In my research on the retail and social changes on Commercial Drive in the middle of the last century, one of the key factors of modernization that emerges in the 1930s and 1940s is the evolution of many hardware stores into appliance retailers. Prior to the introduction of TV and music systems in the 1950s, it was the steady improvement in laundry technology that drove this cultural process.

A successful electric washing machine with a perforated rotating cylinder had been patented in 1910. By the late 1930s, Bendix had introduced the first front loader, which washed, rinsed, and dried automatically.  This generation of machines also introduced the centrifugal spinner, thus eliminating the need to wring out the washed clothes by hand. Agitators and tumblers were added in the 1950s.  Each of these improvements took some while to arrive in the average household but by the 1960s the core technologies that washing machines use to this day had been completed.

As an aside, it is worth mentioning that virtually all domestic technology engineers in the 1920s to 1950s were men, men who would have had little or no first-hand knowledge of the drudgery of household laundry.  I assume that the power of innovation and persuasion by their female partners played a significant role in many of these improvements.