Dwelling Places and Social Spaces: Revealing the Environments of Urban Workers in Victoria Using Historical GIS

The Pacific Northwest underwent rapid economic growth in the late 19th century and cities on both sides of the Canada/US border burgeoned. The building boom was sustained by a large cohort of tradesmen and skilled labourers who lived in modest cabins, tenement blocks, boarding houses, and residential hotels. Most of these urban wageworkers were unmarried. They left few records of their experiences outside the job site or union hall. In this case study of Victoria, British Columbia circa 1891, we deployed a historical geographical information system (hgis ) to reconstitute the urban residential and social space of about 2,000 otherwise elusive working men. Our research framework combines qualitative methods that are familiar to historians and quantitative methods favoured by geospatial researchers. By integrating both qualitative and quantitative data, we are able to represent the multiple spatial conditions experienced by Victoria’s wageworkers in the early 1890s. In the process, we repopulated the city and reconstructed a largely vanished urban landscape. A primary objective of the essay is to demonstrate how gis can be used as a research tool and new epistemology in the field of labour history.