Secrets, Booze & Rebellion: Vancouver’s Unknown History, featuring Eve Lazarus, Daniel Francis and Aaron Chapman, April 15 at 7 p.m., at the Lynn Valley library, part of Read Local B.C., April 1-22. Free. Info: books.bc.ca or facebook.com/readlocalbc.
When North Vancouver writer Eve Lazarus gives talks, she likes to play a game of sorts, throwing out names like Valerie Jerome or Phyllis Munday, asking audience members if they’ve heard of them.
“I’ll get blank looks,” she says.
Then Lazarus will ask whether those in attendance have heard of Harry Jerome or Don Munday.
That question often elicits a very different kind of response. The men tend to be more widely known, and justifiably so based on their achievements — runner Harry’s three-time Olympic performances and Don’s groundbreaking mountaineering career included.
However, Lazarus goes on to argue, the women (Harry’s sister and Don’s wife, respectively), are likewise deserving of celebration.
Valerie’s own track and field Olympic performance in 1960, as well as subsequent teaching and political careers, and Phyllis’ pioneering mountaineering accomplishments earned them a place in Lazarus’s recent publication, 2014’s Sensational Vancouver, in a chapter entitled “Legendary Women.”
Passionate about heritage and history, Lazarus remains committed to telling lesser-known stories as well as coming at the past from a unique angle.
“I like to look at things that I believe have been traditionally passed over by history. Like women, I think we’ve really got a short shrift when it comes to that,” she says.
Lazarus will offer further insight into her research at Secrets, Booze & Rebellion: Vancouver’s Unknown History, a look into the city’s historical underworld, April 15 at the Lynn Valley library. She’ll share the floor with North Vancouver’s Daniel Francis (Closing Time), and Vancouver’s Aaron Chapman (Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver’s Historic Commodore Ballroom and Liquor, Lust, and the Law: The Story of Vancouver’s Legendary Penthouse Nightclub). Topics will include cops turned robbers, rum-running entrepreneurs during prohibition, iconic feminists and groundbreaking architecture.
The talk is part of inaugural Read Local B.C., a province-wide campaign launched by the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia, intended to encourage people to discover and celebrate the talents of writers living and working in their communities. Launched Wednesday, April 1, a host of events, competitions, talks and promotions are being held across the province leading up to B.C. Book Day, April 22.
Lazarus moved from Melbourne, Australia, to the Lower Mainland in the mid-1980s. Working as a business reporter with The Vancouver Sun in the early-1990s, she eventually moved into the freelance writing world, contributing to a variety of high profile publications — The Globe and Mail and Marketing Magazine included.
Her focus shifted 12 years ago after meeting James Johnstone, a house researcher based in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood, while writing a series of magazine stories telling the stories behind houses, from the perspective of a house having a social history or genealogy similar to that of a person.
“It got me really connected to the history of the city by putting it in this context,” she says, seeing juicy themes like bootleggers, brothels and corrupt cops emerge.
That work spring boarded into local history book projects, first 2007’s At Home With History: The Secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Homes, followed by 2012’s Sensational Victoria.
A common theme in Lazarus’ books is murder, something she’s delving into more deeply for her next project, a book about historical unsolved murders in the Metro Vancouver area, most likely due for release in spring 2016.
Lazarus is also one of the contributors to a book project, set for release in the fall, being led by Vancouver writer Caroline Adderson.
“Her outside passion is heritage houses and saving them,” says Lazarus.
The book has grown out of a Facebook page Adderson started a couple of years ago, called Vancouver Vanishes, described as “a lament for, and celebration of, the vanishing character homes in Vancouver.”
Lazarus too is increasingly active in social media, maintaining a Facebook page and blog under the same name, Every Place Has A Story. She views both as great opportunities to continue to tell stories, try out things for new books, and most importantly, stay connected to her readers.
“Social media, through the Facebook page and the blog, just lets me keep that conversation going. People tell me stories and add on stories. It just makes it really rich,” she says.
Lazarus is looking forward to Secrets, Booze & Rebellion, and is familiar with the other writers. She met Francis last year and often refers to his work as part of her own research. She also knows Chapman through their involvement in John Belshaw’s Vancouver Confidential, a 2014 book described by publisher Anvil Press as “a collaboration of artists and writers who plumb the shadows of civic memory looking for the stories that don’t fit into mainstream narratives.”
“It’s just a fantastic collaboration. It’s the first time I’ve ever really worked with other writers, and especially historians,” says Lazarus.
Her chapter is on the Lennie Commission of 1928, the first inquiry into police corruption in the Vancouver Police Department, something she’ll refer to as part of her presentation.
“I literally sat in the archives going through 5,000 pages of testimony for this thing as research. It was just fascinating hearing where you’ve got the mayor on trial, you’ve got the chief of police, you’ve got cops throwing each other under buses, you’ve got the low-level criminal and bookie on the street all on this courtroom stage,” she says.