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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The social life of things : a case study of the Woodward’s Department Store Thompson, Lindsay


The objective of this paper is to illustrate how the city came to have such a love affair with the Woodward's Department Store, and how this love affair has led to the building occupying a position of importance in the city of Vancouver. This thesis critically endeavours to argue that Woodward's has become important through the role of social memory, which is able to make and remake the idea of Woodward's, and through the social life of Woodward's objects. Here I use the term social memory to refer to the collective memory that people share about Woodward's, and also to the 'social' way through which this memory is formed. Not only is people's memory of the Woodward's Department Store social, as they remember the 'social'ness of what it meant to either work or shop there, but the objects associated with the building also have a social life, where their function, ownership and meaning have changed over time. Throughout this argument, I attempt to extract the meaning of the memories and memorabilia submitted to the Woodward's Memories Project, in order to outline the reasons why the building holds importance in the city. The story of how Woodward's came to hold such a place of importance in the city can be revealed from the 'social' aspect of both social memory and the social life of objects. Through Woodward's various functions and roles the meanings become entangled, representing the Woodward's building as an object, a memory and an agent of nostalgia. Because Woodward's was an integral part of Vancouver for generations, the store became rooted in the memory of the people and the city as a whole. This is evidenced not only by their memory of the department store but also by the current revitalization efforts of the Downtown Eastside, to which the redevelopment of Woodward's is key. By outlining the social capital of the Woodward's location as a heritage site, as well as of the Woodward's objects and the memories associated with them, one can finally begin to understand the true importance of the Woodward's Department Store to the City of Vancouver. This holds great importance for Vancouver, especially in this time of revitalization and redevelopment. Not only is the past brought to the forefront of a new project, but by tracing the social life of the building the new meanings and functions that the space served is revealed. This research represents a new part of the city's history which is important to document and share with the public. Aiding in understanding the Woodward's building, both in the past and present, the significance of this project extends beyond the scope of this thesis.

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