The HERSTORY CAFE Story
(March 2007 – February 18, 2016)
In 2006, Lara Campbell booked Jolene Cumming’s tour “The Women of Stanley Park Historical Walking Tour” for her SFU Women’s Studies students. At the time, both Lara and Jolene were looking to set up a public outreach program where women’s history could be recognized and celebrated. Jolene’s “Vancouver Museum’s Women’s History Programs” (2004-2007) had just been cancelled as they transitioned to a more contemporary institute. Lara had heard about a women’s history group in Toronto that met regularly at a pub and asked Jolene if she would like to start something similar in Vancouver; a place where women’s history buffs could meet, hear a presentation, and socialize. They both had the same vision and the Herstory Cafe was born!
They based the format of the Herstory Cafe programming on the successful Philosopher’s Cafe model, a series of informal public talks in various locations around Vancouver. Their goal was to bring women’s history out of the classroom and into the public by showcasing interesting research, writing, and exhibits on women’s history in an open and enjoyable way. They wanted it to be accessible to all by keeping admission free.
The Herstory Cafe has been a remarkably successful endeavor. The very first event was held in March 13, 2007 at the Rhizome Cafe, marking International Women’s Day/Week. That night Willeen Keough, a professor of history at Simon Fraser University, spoke about “The Widow’s Curse: Irish-Newfoundland Women and Conflict Management on the Southern Avalon” to a “standing room only” crowd. Since then, the Herstory Cafe has hosted 79 events, including talks, book discussions, walking tours, and museum and gallery tours. They even produced the popular Women’s History Fair at the Vancouver Public Library, where hundreds of people came to see over 20 displays and exhibits by local museums, archives, cultural groups and schools. At a Herstory Cafe event you might: hear the poetry of Janet Rogers, Mohawk spoken word poet and Victoria’s poet laureate; learn about the stories of women who worked on the sea off the coast of British Columbia; hear a presentation on French fashion in the interwar years; learn about the experiences of Japanese Picture Brides; reflect on the joys and difficulties of doing family history; see an exhibit on modern sex education curriculum or twentieth-century feminist art.
To keep the Herstory Cafe events free, they’ve worked closely with local Vancouver restaurants, pubs, archives, hotels, and other businesses and public spaces. They have benefitted from the generosity of many such institutions in Vancouver, especially the Rhizome Cafe, the Sylvia Hotel, the City of Vancouver Archives, The Railway Club, the Museum of Vancouver and the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University. They’ve even held a few wonderful events during Women’s History Month in Council Chambers at Vancouver City Hall. A quick look at their very long list of previous events demonstrates the rich diversity of locations and topics.
The Herstory Cafe’s co-founders and coordinators are:
Jolene Castillou Cumming is a historical interpreter, event producer and researcher who specializes in early Vancouver women’s history and Stanley Park history. She is writing a book about her grandfather, Judge Henry Castillou. Jolene founded The Stanley Park History Group and is a former board member of the Friends of the Vancouver City Archives.
Lara Campbell is professor who teaches Canadian Women’s History in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. She has written and published on the Great Depression and the history of the 1960s.