The Museum of Vancouver (MOV) examines our city’s rich history of protest demonstrations with City on Edge: A Century of Vancouver Activism, a compelling, new photo-based exhibition on display from September 28, 2017 to February 18, 2018.
The collection features 650 photographs of demonstrations, occupations, riots, blockades, and strikes from the early 1900s to the present day, capturing those transformative moments when the city showed up, stood up, and rallied for change—or exploded in anger. Visitors will find themselves in a dynamic and interactive environment of large digital projections, short films, and animated sounds of protest rallies and choirs, inviting the public to engage with and think about the impact of grassroots activism in their lives.
“Images of street demonstrations are uniquely gripping and beautiful. They highlight the agency of people in challenging the status quo and effecting social change,” explains Viviane Gosselin, City on Edge Co-Curator and Director of Collections & Exhibitions at MOV. “Several events depicted in the exhibition remind us that laws and policies that we often overlook today are the result of citizens taking their concerns to the street.”
“The photographs reveal a wide range of social and political issues throughout Vancouver’s history,” adds Kate Bird, Co-Curator of City on Edge. “Some protests, especially those regarding affordable housing, urban development and heritage protection are hyper-local, while the peace and environmental movements reflect
a more global activism. The powerful act of marching together with a shared purpose gives people a sense of community engagement with their city, province, country, and the world.”
One of the earliest events documented in City on Edge is the anti-Asian race riot of 1907, when an anti-immigration rally exploded into violence and destruction in Chinatown and Japantown. Other iconic events include the Komagata Maru incident, the 1946 Daily Province strike, the Gastown riot, the 1993 Clayoquot Sound anti-logging protests, Occupy Vancouver, and last year’s Kinder Morgan demonstrations.
The photographs in the exhibition, many which have not been seen since their initial publication in the Vancouver Sun and The Province newspapers, are centered around issues that have provoked resistance and incited passion in this city for decades such as the environment, labour relations, government policies, Indigenous rights, and social justice. The exhibition also includes images that explore Vancouver’s raucous history of sports and concert riots. These visually stunning photographs serve as exceptional historical records of intense and transformational periods in the lives of Vancouverites.
By sharing this extensive photo collection, MOV encourages visitors to experience a century of activism not as a series of isolated sit-ins, street demonstrations, and blockades, but as key societal expressions of social democracy. Essentially, these protests have long turned public spaces into stages upon which people share viewpoints, express common goals, mobilize public opinion, and endeavor to effect change.
In addition to co-curating the exhibition, Kate Bird will draw on her experience as a retired Pacific Newspaper Group librarian to present a collection of protest images in City on Edge: A Rebellious Century of Vancouver Protests, Riots, and Strikes, a new book that will be published this fall by Greystone Books (details at greystonebooks.com). The exhibition expands on the book, showcasing a significantly larger number of photographs in a dramatic multimedia environment. Bird is the author of the bestselling 2016 book Vancouver in the Seventies, which inspired a companion exhibition at MOV. City on Edge marks her second collaboration as a MOV co-curator.