Museum Monday: The Pacific Press Chapel SlipboardPosted by: Jillian Povarchook on July 09, 2012 / 11:48 AM
At the MOV, I work in storage. Sometimes I wish I could do this in the dark as there are some artefacts that make my imagination run a little too wildly in the wrong direction. I avert my eyes as quickly as possible when I am in the general vicinity of the following things: a Sto:lo sculpture of an anthropomorphic figure holding a salmon, a life sized papier-mâché sculpture of Mike Harcourt in jogging gear, and the mounted head of some prehistoric thing that looks like Jabba the Hut.
What I love to look at most, however, is always in my line of sight; our Curator of Collections was lovely enough to hang it on the art rack right beside my desk. It is the Pacific Press Chapel Slipboard (catalogue no. H2011.58.11a-x) and it is beautiful.
The term “chapel slipboard” is almost an artefact itself, a holdover from a time when labour organizations were largely illegal and union members met under the guise of attending “chapel meetings”. This particular slipboard was used from 1957 to 1997 to manage rights to union work for members of the International Typographical Union (ITU) working at the Pacific Press newspapers (the Vancouver Sun and The Province) in Vancouver. The slipboard hung in the Pacific Press composing room, eventually located on South Granville St. at West 6th Ave.
Though most workers at the Pacific Press belonged to the Vancouver Typographical Union Local 226, the slipboard system allowed ITU members from all over North America to find work in Vancouver. The travelling printer’s “slip” (a card showing their name and trade skills) was placed on the substitute board (on the right as you face the board). Regular chapel member’s names are shown in a separate area (on the left as you face the board), which was kept under lock and key. The chapel chair (union representative) operated the slipboard, which was used to determine shifts, days off, and vacations based on seniority. If a regular member wished time off, they could hire a substitute to cover their job for up to 30 days.
I love the visual history contained on this board as I’m sure union activity as described above is now conducted on a computer. It must have been very stressful as a travelling worker, waiting for your slip to be selected from the board and satisfying when it finally was. It must also have been very satisfying as a regular member to see your name move up in seniority over the years. In fact, the names of the regular members on this board were the last members of Local 226 to negotiate lifetime employment with Pacific Press, a concept that today must sound completely alien to many ears.
Even if this artefact lacked such a detailed union history, I would still love it. It’s a stunning object, the raised brass letters casting slight shadows on the backing board which is painted a curious shade of Wedgewood blue. And there is something very romantic about a list of names kept under lock and key. I see them out of the corner of my eye every day, taunting my imagination to compose elaborate back stories for the men (and maybe few women) who would print the news for the entirety of their working lives.
There are some downsides to working in storage — there are no windows, it often feels cold and damp, and the spooky papier-mâché silhouettes of former mayors lurk around dark corners. It’s not too bad of a trade-off, though, getting to gaze upon and learn about objects whose lives are often much longer and more storied than our own.