Rolf Knight’s ‘Along the No. 20 Line’ is Vancouver history seen from the street

Burnaby historian and retired taxi driver Rolf Knight refuses to express satisfaction at the republication, after 41 years, of his classic Along the No. 20 Line, the story of the people and places who lived along one of the city’s old Interurban streetcar lines.

But as Tom Hawthorne’s profile in today’s Globe points out, the memoir of the people who travelled the line is just one book in a library of Knight’s work Knight work that changed the direction of BC historical research.

Unlike most historians, Knight situated class at the centre of his analysis and saw the actions of working people, like Japanese Canadian fisherman Ryuichi Yoshida, the subject of A Man of Our Times, as the levers of change.

No. 20 Line is one of the easiest reads by a remarkable scholar who considered any praise from establishment forces as a sign he was heading off-course. That certainly was his reaction about 10 years ago when I congratulated him on the widespread praise for a second edition of Indians at Work, another classic that rewrote the BC history of contact between BC’s aboriginal people and successive waves of settlers. The book, as much a polemic against leading historians as it was a new history, was termed “indispensible” by one target of Knight’s criticism, but Knight shrugged off the compliment as an irritating distraction.

Now, whether he likes it or not, the republication of No. 20 Line as part of Vancouver’s 125th birthday celebration, will bring a new round of praise. Knight will just have to suffer through it, his underdog status intact.