Chilliwack Progress, January 7, 1892, page 1.
- “Nanaimo is now lighted by electricity.”
- “Mr. Cory Ryder takes charge of the Post Office at Cheam.”
- “The Gladys will continue her regular trips up and down the river.”
- “Mrs. Spencer, of Victoria, is visiting her mother, Mrs. Evans, her husband accompanied her.”
If you’re like me, you’ve been browsing the recently digitized historic newspaper archive of the Chilliwack Progress. I always stop at the Local and Other Items column listed on the front page to read the detailed accounts of life in Chilliwack and the latest headlines from around the Province.
I love these old newspapers. Reading the Local and Other Items columns takes me back in time, where I imagine the conversations that ensued around the water coolers of years past. I imagine the discussion that might arise when the towns folk read things like:
- ” A carload of wagons, buggies, sleighs and cutters, direct from the east, have arrived, and will be deposited at the Harrison House. For particulars see John Reece”. (Chilliwack Progress, 1892, January 7, p.1)
- “Mr. James Bailey has gone east for a three month visit to his father and friends in Grey Co. and other places. We wish him a pleasant trip and safe return”. (Chilliwack Progress, 1892, January 7, p.1)
These news items are amusing. Phone numbers or postal addresses are not required, for everyone knows how to get a hold of John Reece. There is no need to explain who James Bailey is, for the entire Chilliwack Progress readership seems to be wishing him a pleasant trip. I picture these news items being discussed in length at social gatherings, much like many people today find themselves referencing Facebook and Twitter when recalling current news and gossip.
Speaking of Facebook and Twitter, I can’t help but compare today’s social media phenomenon and popularity with the Local and Other Items columns found in historic newspapers. The local columns must have been popular at the time, seeing as they are often found on the front pages and have no end of minute details about people’s comings and goings. The “posts” even seem to be restricted to a short word length, not unlike the 140 character limit of Twitter.
This has me wondering: what will our descendants think about our social media posts and tweets 100 years from now? Will photographs of our meals and updates on our vacations inform researchers about who we were and what we’ve been up to? Were the Local and Other Items columns the 1890’s version of Twitter?
Researchers at the Chilliwack Archives find the newspaper reports of local happenings a fun and often informative part of their research. I’ve seen, for example, many people get sidetracked reading these reports while looking for obits and other articles. Knowing when great uncle Bob arrived to town, who stayed with him and what social parties his wife attended, can provide a colourful glimpse into life and perhaps, personalities of their relatives.
Historical Context is Key
When it comes to historic newspapers and archival records in general, context is key. Historical context is not something easily grasped when you are faced with primary source records. With historical documents, historical context can help us better understand the moods, attitudes and cultural setting of a person, place or event in history.For example, Johnathan Reece would have needed no introduction in 1898 Chilliwack, as he was a prominent landowner – the first Anglo-European to pre-empt land in 1959 in what would become the City of Chilliwack. As well, the Harrison House Hotel, which was located on the southeast corner of Wellington Avenue and Corbould Street, was a short buggy ride from Chilliwack landing and a four minute walk to the business district of Five Corners. An obvious choice for a deposit of large goods such as carriages and cutters.
So, while I reflect on the similarities between Facebook posts and the Chilliwack Progress Local and Other Items columns of 1892, I must also think of the historical contexts of the time periods in question. In 1893, Chilliwack’s population was about 3000 and so easy for the newspaper informants to keep an eye on local news and social events and for people to know one another well. While the Local and Other Items columns can be informative, they can also be selective in their reporting. For example, attitudes at the time were not always favourable towards First Nations and Chinese residents, and so these communities are not included or reported upon in the local happenings columns. As a result, if I were researching a Stó:lo or Chinese family history, the newspaper might not be a good source for information, where it may be a great source for Anglo-European residents.
Historical context can help place the historical documents we examine in to perspective. What is being reported upon; what is not being reported upon? Why or why not? How valid is the resource, what are the biases of the author or publisher? What does the reporter take for granted the readership will know and understand? Why or why not?
Engaging with HistoryBack to 1892, the Chilliwack Progress newspapers continue to pique my curiosity and spark my imagination as I formulate a picture and narrative of Chilliwack’s past in my mind. Learning more about my community, its people and attitudes from historical documents is how I enjoy engaging in local history.
I would like to invite you, dear reader of this blog, to visit or contact me at the Chilliwack Archives. I’m happy to help you access the resources needed for you to engage with your local history here in Chilliwack and electronically, abroad.
– Shannon Bettles, Archivist