Tamara Myers

Associate Professor

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Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Sex work and the social-spatial order of boomtown : Winnipeg, 1873-1912 (2016)

Life in late-nineteenth century Canada was characterized by dramatic social and economic change. Fears of American annexation, combined with growing interest in the agricultural potential of the Prairies, contributed to the colonization, settlement, and eventual urbanization and industrialization of the Canadian West. In 1871, the first numbered treaties were signed and the Dominion Lands Act was passed, signalling the resettlement of Indigenous communities onto isolated reserves in Manitoba and the rapid westward migration of European settlers, eager to capitalize on the Canadian government’s promises of free land and good jobs. Such rapid transformations were, of course, accompanied by what the governing middle class would perceive as social discord: the mobilization of the working class, the emergence of women in the public sphere, and Indigenous resistance. While many focused their efforts on the segregation, regulation, and reform of these diverse communities, others identified and exploited opportunities in Canada’s new urban contexts, thus shaping the social and geographic patterns of development therein. This study focuses on the relationship between sex work and urban development in the city of Winnipeg between 1873 and 1912. By examining a variety of sources, including the final report and minutes of evidence from the Royal Commission on Charges of Social Vice, police court record books, newspapers, and published first-hand accounts, this study argues that Winnipeg’s early sex economy and the spaces it occupied were actively produced and continually reshaped by the city’s sex workers, business interests, and civic elite. Each of these groups recognized that the tacit acceptance of certain types of sex work (and sex workers), combined with the continuous deployment of regulatory middle-class discourses, would play a significant role in the demographic and physical growth of the city, while generating incredible profits for all involved parties. It is thus my contention that Winnipeg’s socio-spatial development depended on this interplay of competing—even contradictory—social, economic, and political interests. Sex workers—and the other historical actors with whom they interacted—influenced the social and geographic patterns of urban development in Winnipeg, transforming it from a fur trade outpost to colonial metropolis over its first forty years.

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Child immigrants to the "edge of empire" : Fairbridge child migrants and British Columbia's quest for the construction of the "white man's province" (2013)

Beginning in the 1860s British children participated in migration schemes to Canada. Philanthropists, motivated by evangelical beliefs and despair at the state of childhood for homeless and dependent children in Britain, would send 80,000 British boys and girls to Canada between 1867 and 1929. Placed with Canadian families in rural communities, the schemes directed these children toward lives as farm labourers and housewives. By the 1920s, rampant opposition to these child migration schemes in central and eastern Canada brought about their termination. Opponents of child migration, mobilized the language of eugenics to condemn the children sent to Canada as “degenerate castoffs” of British society, and argued that the children were beyond saving and posed a threat to Canadian society. This was not the end of child migration to Canada, however, for in 1935 the Fairbridge Society, a rescue organization, opened the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School in British Columbia. This final scheme would see 329 children sent to British Columbia before its demise in 1950.The earlier period of child migration to Canada, 1860 to 1929, has received the majority of scholarly attention with the recommencement in 1935 often overlooked. This thesis examines how the Fairbridge Farm School at Cowichan Station was able to open and operate in British Columbia without popular opposition by exploring how British Columbian constructions of whiteness were projected onto and internalized by the operators of the Farm School and its children, and in doing this incorporate the Fairbridge Farm School into the larger narrative of child migration to Canada.

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Resisting the war in "little brother country" : Vietnam War exiles, identity crisis and Canadianization (2013)

The object of this research project is to analyze the cultural, political and social integration of draft resisters and deserters living in Vancouver within the Canadian radical protest scene of the 1960s. In particular, it will investigate how refugees’ national and cultural identity, their own preconceptions of Canadian life and their own emotional response to their new environment either helped or hindered their attempts to engage in radical politics. War evaders involved the groups The Vancouver American Deserters Committee and Vancouver Yippie! showed divergent degrees of willingness to adapt their national and political identity to their new surroundings, and this had a direct impact on their ability to interact with the various political scenes springing up around the city. Using sociological theory and primary material (including letters, pamphlets, audio-visual material, newspaper articles and interviews) this study will prove that the maintenance of a solely American draft exile identity was in fact detrimental to an individual’s ability to engage in radical protest, and that a process of Canadianization was crucial to retaining some semblance of political relevance.

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Making and defending intimate spaces : white waitresses policed in Vancouver's Chinatown cafes (2010)

In mid-1930s Vancouver, city authorities launched a campaign to ban white waitresses from Chinatown cafes. Canadian historians have overlooked this campaign because of the tendency to treat the Chinese in Canada as a separate history from working women and to focus on discourse analysis rather than experience. This obscures the importance of sexuality and cross-racial interaction to the lives of both Chinese “bachelors” and white working women in Canada. This paper shows how white waitresses, Chinese restaurant owners, and Chinese patrons created and defended a social space of cross-racial intimacies in Vancouver’s Chinatown cafes.By examining a variety of sources, including mainstream and labour newspapers, mayor’s and police records, oral histories, and Chinese-language newspapers, this paper considers the perspectives of the four groups involved in the campaign. City authorities constructed the cafes as immoral spaces, where white waitresses were enticed into prostitution by Chinese men. In the name of protecting white womanhood, they drew a gendered and racial line around Chinatown. Despite policies of racial and gender equality, labour organizations also viewed the campaign through this lens of morality.For the white waitresses and Chinese customers, on the other hand, these cafes opened up a social space to explore cross-racial intimacies. In the cafes, they flirted, formed friendships, and began sexual relationships. The Chinese “treated” the waitresses to dinner, gifts, or money in exchange for sexual intimacy. Some of these intimacies were purely functional, while others developed into relationships that fulfilled mutual interests, needs, and desires. Through these intimate practices, they created choices and opportunities not available outside of Chinatown.The ban forced the Chinese, and especially the white waitresses, to become self-reflective about their experience in the cafes. The Chinese condemned the ban as racial discrimination. Fifteen white waitresses marched on city hall, where they defended their rights as workers, their respectability, and their Chinese employers. The waitresses articulated why the Chinatown cafes held value in their lives and in Vancouver. They had lost their jobs and their reputations, but they took a political stand.

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The death and life of Aboriginal women in postwar Vancouver (2010)

Violence against indigenous women in Canada is endemic. Through a case study of postwar Vancouver, this paper situates this ongoing violence in its historical context. In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, countless Aboriginal women died on the streets and in the cheap rooming houses and hotels of Vancouver’s downtown eastside. These women died from the effects of poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, tuberculosis, and malnutrition, but too often their deaths were hastened by brutal assaults, rape, and murder. Although it took place in Vancouver’s very recent past, this story is remarkably absent from literature in Aboriginal history, women’s history, and postwar Canadian history. Using a feminist and anti-racist analysis of a public discourse about Aboriginal women, this paper examines the grave extent of racial and sexual violence against Aboriginal women during these decades. During the postwar period, Vancouver’s Aboriginal population increased significantly, generating an anxious public discourse about the changing face of the city. This discourse, which appeared regularly in mainstream venues such as newspapers, civic reports, and social work theses, supported a narrative about Native women living and dying on Vancouver’s skid road. Central to this narrative was a portrait of the “dead Indian girl,” telling a fatalistic story of poverty, discrimination, loneliness, alcoholism, prostitution, rape, and death in the city. Using paternalistic language, this narrative infantilized and victimized Aboriginal women, but it was, nonetheless, designed to generate public attention. In response to this crisis, private organizations and concerned individuals established the Vancouver Indian Centre and several hostels for Aboriginal women; they thought that these facilities would keep women off the streets, and therefore, prevent further death on skid road. Yet despite these efforts, racial and sexual violence against Aboriginal women would continue.

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