BCHF News Front Words with Mark Forsythe

Front Words with Mark Forsythe

An excerpt from the Winter 2022-23 edition of British Columbia History.

Bob Hanna (right) with stone sculptor David Weir at unveiling of the Robert Hill Hanna VC statue. Photo: Adam Beck

1BC War Hero Honoured in Northern Ireland
The son of a Canadian war hero has unveiled a stone statue of his father in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland. Robert Hill Hanna immigrated to BC from County Down in 1905, and at age 27 enlisted with the 29th Battalion in Vancouver. His November 1914 attestation papers describe him as a “lumberman” with fair hair and blue eyes, standing 5 feet 7-1/2 inches (171 cm) tall. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts at the 1917 Battle of Hill 70 in northern France. With all of his company officers either killed or wounded, Hanna led a party against a fortified machine gun nest under heavy fire. His citation reads, “[H]e rushed through the wire and personally bayoneted three of the enemy and brained the fourth, capturing the position and silencing the machine gun.”

The people of Kilkeel never forgot their native son. A fundraising campaign by the Schomberg Society financed a life-sized statue that now stands in a public square near the heart of this fishing port. His son, Bob Hanna, journeyed with his family to Kilkeel from BC and told the BBC, “It’s unbelievable that an event of 105 years ago is suddenly in the forefront. This is happening to me now.”

2Google Earth Meets Local History
Google Earth and local archival images make for an engrossing virtual tour of heritage buildings and places in Smithers. Developed by the Bulkley Valley Museum, the tour highlights the traditional territory—the yin tah—of the Wit’suwit’en people. The online viewer selects a building or site from the menu; Google Earth then swiftly zooms to that location, displaying a current image beside archival photos. Relevant information is included for historical context. Find the tour here: https://bvmuseum.org/virtual-exhibits. Research conducted for the virtual tour and downtown history walks are also the basis for a heritage registry project currently underway.

Part of the Bulkley Valley Museum’s Google Earth archival tour. Photo: Bulkley Valley Museum

3Long Road to Cariboo
Bravo to Richard Wright and Amy Newman, makers of Long Road to Cariboo, which won the Silver Award at the Independent Shorts Awards in Los Angeles and has now been accepted at three other film festivals. Storytelling and song recreate the back-breaking journey into the Cariboo during the gold rush, with special attention to its multicultural participants.

Title image from Long Road to Cariboo. Photo: Winters Quarters Productions

Richard Wright says, “The gold rush story is often told as European (i.e., white) miners coming to a bucolic landscape where ‘one could leave their gold sitting on the boardwalk.’ It was not this lofty image. It was miners from around the world, in particular Europeans, Chinese, South Americans, Mexicans, and, of course, First Nations. We wanted to tell and show the wide range of people who were here through their music.”

Imagine a 600-kilometre journey by foot from Fort Yale to the Cariboo gold fields across a vast and formidable landscape. Eventually the Cariboo Wagon Road provided wheeled passage to those who could afford it. The film traces that trek from the Fraser Canyon’s boiling rapids to the awe-inspiring Chasm wilderness near Clinton and beyond to the gold diggings. Long Road to Cariboo packs a lot of history into 22 minutes and can be seen at https://vimeo.com/726878846 and at “Richard T. Wright Photography–Winter Quarters Productions” on Facebook. Funding was provided by the New Pathways to Gold Society and BC Multiculturalism Branch; most scenes were filmed on the traditional lands of the Secwépemc (Shuswap) people.

Photo: Courtesy the Village of Daajing Giids

4Rebirth of Ancestral Name: The Village of Queen Charlotte has been officially renamed Daajing Giids
Signs reading “Village of Queen Charlotte” are now fading into history after local council voted unanimously to revert to the ancient Haida name, Daajing Giids, pronounced DAW-jean GEEDS. Village council responded to a request from the Haida Hereditary Chiefs Council and then canvassed its citizens. Mayor Kris Olsen told CBC, “We have embraced our responsibility and come through on the right side of this historic moment.”

Queen Charlotte Islands, Sound, and Village were named after one of Captain George Dixon’s ships when the Royal Navy officer and fur trader visited the area in 1787. (Charlotte was the wife of King George III.) The Islands were renamed Haida Gwaii in 2009 as part of a reconciliation agreement between the province and the Haida Nation. Initiatives to change colonial era names are underway in multiple BC communities.

Crew preparing exterior for painting at the Old Hastings Mill Store Museum. Photo: Mark Forsythe

5Old Hastings Mill Store Museum Gets TLC
Vancouver’s oldest building is showing its age. Built in 1868, the Old Hastings Mill Store was vital to workers at the adjacent Hastings sawmill for groceries, hardware, mail, and social contact. Originally located at the foot of Dunlevy Avenue at Vancouver Harbour, its entrance faced the water. A $200,000 restoration project includes repairs to the fir siding, window frames and chimney, topped off with a fresh coat of paint in its original white with rusty red accents. Rhino Design, a Vancouver renovation and restoration company, spent about four months working on the building, now located in Hastings Mill Park on Alma Street. The Old Hastings Mill Store Museum is operated by the last surviving chapter of the Native Daughters of BC, which saved the building from demolition in 1930. Donations are eagerly accepted via https://hastingsmillmuseum.ca. Net proceeds from the book Hastings Mill: The Historic Times of a Vancouver Community by Lisa Anne Smith are also being directed toward the project.

Mark Forsythe travels through BC and back in time, exploring the unique work of British Columbia Historical Federation members.