“A Day in the Life” with historian and writer, Derek Hayes

Derek Hayes began writing history books in the late 1990s, publishing his first book, Historical Atlas of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest in 1999. The book illustrated history with old maps, ones drawn at the time, which showed what people knew about at that moment. It was a new approach, one that had hardly been used by historians at that point, and was an instant success, selling well over 30,000 copies in both Canadian and American editions, a huge amount for an essentially regional title. The book also received a number of awards and launched a new career, which has, to date, led to the publication of 19 books, including historical atlases of Canada, the United States, California, the Arctic, North American railways, early railways, Vancouver, and Toronto, as well as another, but a completely new, historical atlas of British Columbia. Many of these books garnered awards, and Derek is the only person (to date) to have received the BC Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing twice. A full list of books can be found on his website.

Derek travels widely researching his books since much of the early material is found in foreign archives; much for Canada is in archives in London, England, and Paris, France. His most recent book, Iron Road West, published in 2018, is a profusely illustrated account of the history of British Columbia’s railways. He lives in White Rock.

Derek is also a photographer, with many of the illustrations in his books having been taken personally. For a time he taught a course for his local arts organization called Don’t Take Photos – Create Art. His new book, Incredible Crossings: The History and Art of the Bridges, Tunnels and Inland Ferries that Connect British Columbia, reflects an affection for photographs of bridges, which often have especially photogenic curves and lines. This was augmented during the pandemic with two tours of British Columbia looking for artistic bridges and inland ferries to add to his existing collection. Photographs include some taken with a fisheye lens – one or two taken vertically through the sunroof of a moving car – and some taken with a camera converted to infrared, which is sensitive to a whole different spectrum of light. The book includes many details of how photos were taken, so it is of interest to photographers as well as the general reader. Some photos have been processed for special effects, such as, for example, an old process called solarization, where a negative was exposed to the sun for a while during development. Combining the photos with details of history has created a unique book combining history and art. The book will be published by Harbour Publishing in October.

Derek Hayes
Another interesting feature, this tunnel was built for a horse-drawn railway between Whitby and Pickering engineered by George Stephenson, considered the father of the modern railway. It was built in 1835. It was replaced in the 1840s by a wider tunnel next to it for steam locomotives.
Derek Hayes
Always on the lookout for interesting features, here’s a photo by Derek that fits with his latest book: a ford. Only a few inches deep when the photo was taken but often much deeper is this crossing on the North Yorkshire Moors in NE England.
Besides an interesting sculpture on the shores of Derwentwater, one of the lakes in the Lake District of NW England, a national park.
Derek on a recent trip to the UK poses in front of a folly, a tower built in 1794 just for ornamentation of the countryside. It is in the Cotswolds, an ‘area of natural scenic beauty’.
Derek in a tunnel built in 1836 for a railway line engineered by George Stephenson, who built some of the first steam locomotives. The tunnel was for a horse-drawn railway in Britain, from Whitby to Pickering, across the North York Moors, today the route of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a heritage line.
Derek Hayes
Derek at the Shildon branch of the UK National Railway Museum in August 2022. Behind him are the prototype British Deltic diesel (blue), which replaced steam locomotives on the East Coast Main Line in 1961-62, breaking speed records in the process; and High-Speed Train (HST) 43102, which broke (and still holds) the world speed record for diesel in 1987.
Derek Hayes
Derek at the railway museum in Madrid, Spain in 2021. Behind him is a 1950 Talgo II train, a revolutionary 140-km/h light train design with self-guiding wheels, articulated trainsets, and light aluminum coachwork. Later design Talgo trains still run on the Amtrak route from Vancouver to Seattle.

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Which ’hood are you in?

Derek lives in White Rock and loves walking along the beach both there and at nearby Crescent Beach.

What do you do?

I’m a historian and author.

What are you currently working on?

He is currently working on a history of high-speed trains (“from Rocket to Bullet and Beyond”) and in fact had to cancel a research trip to Japan when Covid began and instead focus on his upcoming more local book on British Columbia bridges.

Where can we find your work?

Many of his books are listed on bookseller websites, including Amazon and Indigo, and publisher websites for Douglas & McIntyre and Harbour Publishing. His own website lists all his books.