September 18, 2018

The Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibit Cabin Fever comes to a close in just over a week. I’d expected to see the allusions to both the Romanticism of Thoreau’s Walden and the postmodernism of Cabin Porn. What I hadn’t expected to see was a corner of the exhibit devoted to the cabins built to temporarily house refugees of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco that killed 3000 people and destroyed 80% of the city.

By 1906, tenement buildings had long fallen out of favour for fostering incest, juvenile prostitution and drunkenness. The earthquake cottages were seen as a more wholesome alternative.

However, with the cottage camps (set up in local parks) came different complaints from the city’s middle class. The troubles were no longer ones of depraved immorality, but now the more annoying “idlers and paupers.” At least the tenement tenants had stayed in their own buildings!