Q&A with SFU author Eve Lazarus

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Eve Lazarus, a published author and freelance writer, was born in Australia but calls Vancouver home. She earned her BA from SFU originally studying business, but switched to a major in communication, and also has a certificate in journalism from Langara College. Lazarus has worked in journalism and corporate communications for more than 20 years and has a passion for local history and heritage.

Her fifth book, Sensational Vancouver, focuses on the seedy underbelly of Vancouver, during the first half of the 20th century. The book launch will be later this summer, hopefully at the Vancouver Police Museum, and she will also be at Word Vancouver in September. Lazarus also blogs about the stories behind local buildings at Every Place has a Story.

The Peak: How did you get involved in local and provincial history and heritage?

Eve Lazarus: I fell in love with the idea that a house has a social history or a genealogy much like a person and I wanted to tell the stories of the house. I found that the stories that really fascinated me were the ones that weren’t in traditional history books — stories about rum runners and bootleggers and brothels and murders. I also discovered some really amazing women that most people never had the chance to hear about, and I wanted to change that.

Writing about history for me is all about the thrill of the chase. It’s about uncovering connections, it’s finding descendants of people who lived a century or more ago to tell you their stories, and it’s finding that nugget of information that no one knew was there.

I served on the District of North Vancouver’s heritage commission for four years, and part of the reason I write what I do is I hope that by telling the stories behind some of our old homes, we’ll be more inclined to save them.

P: Besides local history, what other topics are you drawn to as a writer?

EL: Women and murder. My next book is about unsolved murders in Vancouver. I also love writing about some of the amazing women that have carved out or are carving out their place in history and helping to change our world — most of whom have received little, if any, attention.

P: Can you tell me about your latest book, Sensational Vancouver (Anvil Press, 2014)?

EL: Sensational Vancouver is a fully illustrated popular history book about Vancouver’s famous and infamous filtered through the houses in which they lived. In many ways it’s a sequel to At Home with History: The Untold Secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Homes published in 2007, but in Sensational Vancouver I’ve organized the book into themes and told the story of Vancouver’s seedier history through real characters such as Joe Ricci, a kick-arse detective who joined the Vancouver Police Department in 1912, Lurancy Harris, the first woman police officer hired in Canada to patrol the high-end brothels, and Ray Munro, a reporter who brought down the corrupt chief of police in the 1950s.

It’s not all about Vancouver’s underbelly though, I’ve also written a chapter called a Century of Entertainment that includes Bryan Adams through his Gastown warehouse, Michael Buble and his childhood home, a chapter on legendary women and a chapter on West Coast architecture.

We’ve also included a map of the DTES, Strathcona, and Chinatown with the buildings that appear in the book. I’m hoping people will use it to go down there and really take a hard look at some of these buildings that formed a part of our history.

P: What is your writing and research process like?

EL: As far as research, I spend a great deal of my life at the Vancouver Archives, at Special Collections in the Vancouver Public Library and at their 5th floor microfilm, at the Vancouver Police Museum and finding and interviewing as many people that are connected to the homes and the characters as possible. For instance I found Joe Ricci’s daughter, now in her 80s, living in the house her father built in 1922. She was able to tell me tons of stories, loan me photographs for the book and boxes of newspaper clippings and letters that she’d saved.