Some of the oldest buildings in Vancouver are in in areas where few people visit. It is not unusual for residents to rarely enter a historic building in the city. For those Vancouverites who are currently looking to purchase a home, there are opportunities to attend open houses in “old timer” homes – homes that are 80 to 100 years old. If you are one of those house hunters you might have spent time recently walking through homes in places like Queen’s Park, New Westminster. A visit to one of these old timers provides a striking introduction to a home that has a long story to tell about its former inhabitants. It is hard to not let your mind wander as you walk from room to room in these spacious home, touch the original windows and smell the wood in the floors. Who lived in this home when it was newly built? What kinds of clothes did they wear? What was there lifestyle like? You can imagine the matriarch of the household moving from the large kitchen to the mudroom and the porch beyond in the first decade of the new century. As you think about these families of long ago, it is hard not to wonder about the women and children and ask “how did they do it? How did they manage to live in the conditions of the time?”
If life in the city one hundred years ago seems challenging, what must it have been like in rural locations? If you have spent time in Alaska or the Yukon, you might have come across copies of the books Women of the Klondike and Children of the Klondike in gift shops and stores. In your haste you might have rushed by these books without giving them much thought. For lovers of social history of the Pacific Northwest these books are a treasure trove of thorough research and fascinating stories describing the experiences of the women and children in the days of the Klondike gold rush. If you are visiting City Square at Cambie and 12th, check out the pop up store next to the Starbucks. There you can find some copies of both of these books. (Or you can order them online – see links below.)
In the Women of the Klondike author Frances Backhouse tells the stories of women who were miners, entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, nurses, journalists, entertainers, missionaries and mothers. The stories are truly compelling and only get more fascinating when you move on to read about the lives of children who immigrated into the region, or were born en route to or in the Klondike. Backhouse wanted to research how children coped with the journey into the region, the cold weather and the illnesses of the day. How did they amuse themselves? What was their lifestyle like? Backhouse recounts how life was tough but also enjoyable as the children had the opportunity to explore the vast wilderness. Children were also a rarity in the more remote regions and were doted on by the miners – many of whom had left children of their own behind to come to the Pacific Northwest.
While parents can read the stories and relay them to their children, children can enjoy looking at the fascinating photographs of life in rural Yukon. The next time you visit an old timer home or a heritage building, you just might find yourself thinking about the people you read about in these fascinating books.
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Whitecap Books press description of Children of the Klondike
If you’re interested in this topic, you won’t want to miss this podcast interview with the book’s author, Frances Backhouse
Frances Backhouse on Facebook
Children of the Klondike by Frances Backhouse
Women of the Klondike by Frances Backhouse
Children of the Gold Rush by Claire Rudolf Murphy and Jane G Haigh
Every House has a Story is a fascinating blog detailing the social history of homes in British Columbia