Click here to read an article in the Northwest Labor Press about the exhibit.
Click here for The Columbian’s article.
Run dates: July 11, 2013 – December 31, 2014
Clock in at the museum to discover the significance of Clark County’s work and workers by tracing their development against a backdrop of regional and national labor movement milestones. Learn more about the past, present and future of local labor through words, images and artifacts, plus interactive displays for the young at heart.
Following the reception, author and University of Washington professor Dr. Michael Honey will present a special Second Thursday lecture entitled, “Links on the Chain: Labor and Civil Rights in Story and Song”. Refreshments will be provided by The Grant House Restaurant. CCHS members, military veterans, and active-duty military personnel and their families all receive free admission to the museum; otherwise, regular admission rates apply.
“Labor: A Working History” follows the path of workers’ rights locally and on a national scale beginning in the 1800s with Hawaiian and Native American laborers for the Hudson’s Bay Company. As industry began to grow in Vancouver through large companies like the Star Brewery and service industry jobs increased as a result, workers began to band together to protect their wages and rights. Continuing through the 20th century, the exhibit highlights the effects of the world wars on workers’ unions and the internal struggles between organized labor groups such as the AFL and the CIO. Since the 1980s and the rise of inflation and automation, labor unions have lost much of the power they once held, and the exhibit notes the plight of present-day workers and the specter of a future where they do not have the protections of strong labor unions.
Click here for a current list of exhibit sponsors.
Here’s a sneak preview from one of the exhibit panels:
Native American and Hawaiian Labor
Chinookan-speaking people had long and successfully labored to tap the area’s abundant natural resources. In 1824, Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) designated Fort Vancouver as the headquarters and agricultural supply depot for its extensive fur-trading operation. The region’s first corporation had two dozen trading posts, six ships, and over six hundred employees. Native Americans throughout this trade network supplied the furs crucial to HBC profits.
Hawaiian labor also became critical to the enterprise. To trade with China, HBC ships stopped in the Hawaiian or “Sandwich” Islands, the 19th century commercial hub of the Pacific. Recognizing a potential workforce, HBC opened an Oahu office in 1829 to recruit or impress Hawaiians into service. Often indebted to the company for trade goods, Hawaiians were contracted for three years as servants at Fort Vancouver. Sometimes exploited and unable to afford to return to their native Hawaii, the men worked on fur brigades, as sailors, loggers, guides, and cooks. They also staffed the region’s first saw mill, described as “a scene of constant toil. Thirty or forty Sandwich Islanders are felling the pines and dragging them to the mill; sets of hands are plying two gangs of saws by night and day; nine hundred thousand feet per annum are constantly being shipped to foreign ports.”
Hawaiian workers often married Native American women, insuring that they renewed their contracts with HBC. Native wives also worked for the company processing salmon, working on the farm, or manufacturing candles and other goods for the stores. In “Kanaka Village” outside the Fort, up to 600 Company Hawaiian, Native American, French-Canadian, Scottish, Irish, and Métis (mixed Native and European heritage) workers and their families made their homes.
After 1846, the Oregon Territory became part of the United States, and HBC eventually relocated to Victoria, British Columbia. More whites began settling north of the Columbia River, changing the status of local Hawaiians and Native Americans. Suffering from mistreatment and racial discrimination, and denied land ownership and American citizenship, some Hawaiians moved north to Kalama or to Canada. Others remained in the area, carving out lives for themselves and their families. The U.S. Army burned the remaining worker village in 1860.