An excerpt from the fall issue of British Columbia History magazine, rounding up historical news and notes.
1 Not Wordle – Gitksan
It’s been the year of Wordle. The free game now has 64 language variations, including Cantonese, Yiddish—even fictional Klingon. Not Wordle – Gitksan uses the language of the Gitksan Nation in northwestern BC. Chief Sim’oo’git Geel (Catherine Blackstock) and others helped develop the game with Victoria-based linguist Aidan Pine.
Chief Geel told CBC Radio, “We talk about the colonization of the land, and the language is one of the things that was taken away—there’s a reason why we don’t speak it fluently.” She tackles a new word each day. Not Wordle – Gitksan draws from UBC’s Gitksan Dictionary Project and may help revive the language before it’s too late. Visit https://gitksan-wordle.mothertongues.org.
2 Grey Fox Turns 40
The Grey Fox is a fictionalized account of Bill Miner, the American outlaw who robbed stagecoaches—and eventually trains. He got away with a load of loot after holding up the CPR at Mission in 1904 ($7,000 in gold, cash, and bonds), but a posse captured him two years later following a robbery near Kamloops. Richard Farnsworth (1920–2000) was the film’s understated star; Phillip Borsos (1953–1995) its brilliant, young director. The Grey Fox was one of the most popular Canadian films ever made, earning seven Genies. This year marks 40 years since its debut. An enduring fascination with the “gentleman bandit” who is said to have coined the phrase “Hands Up!” shows no signs of fading to black. BC’s landscape in this indie Canadian Western is beyond stunning; a few scenes were also shot in Washington state.
3 Alexandra Bridge and Lodge Getting TLC
There’s exciting progress on efforts to revive the historic Alexandra Bridge in the Fraser Canyon. The Spuzzum First Nation and New Pathways to Gold Society (NPTGS) have been working since 2009 to find resources to restore the 1926 bridge, built on the foundations of the Cariboo Road’s 1863 wooden structure. NPTGS Executive Director Don Hauka calls it “the centerpiece of Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park.” The provincial Community Economic Resilience Infrastructure Program has pledged $500,000, and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure $400,000.
“Heritage Masonry [a company based in Victoria] has taken several cores from the bridge’s eastern support tower to determine the state of the concrete and aggregate, crucial to determining the restoration prescription,” says Hauka. Alexandra Bridge remains closed during repairs; visitors will be able to walk across this elegant, iconic bridge in the fall of 2022 after the first phase of work is completed. See https://newpathwaystogold.ca for more details.
Meanwhile, nearby Alexandra Lodge is getting long-overdue attention. Purchased recently by Shirley and Ken MacKinnon, the couple is giving this famous landmark a complete makeover. BC historian and artist Michael Kluckner—who featured the Alexandra Lodge in his 2005 book Vanishing British Columbia—says the Lodge is “one of the last surviving roadhouses in BC, a 1920s structure built around a gold rush-era stopping place. Its rescue by the MacKinnons more than two decades after it closed is timely, retaining a significant landmark that is a link in the chain of the historic Fraser Canyon.” Follow progress on The Historic Alexandra Lodge Facebook page. Volunteers with know-how are welcome!
4 Deep Dive into Historic Newspapers
Attention genealogists, researchers, scholars, and those who may be prone to rabbit holes. Explore a new searchable database containing The Vancouver Sun (1912–2010), Province (1894–2010), and Times Colonist (1884–2010) newspapers. A project of ProQuest, in collaboration of the BC Electronic Library Network, BC Libraries Cooperative, and Focused Education Resources, it’s free to residents of BC and the Yukon. Dive in at https://tinyurl.com/5evswfdc.
5 The Water Is Wide
Pile drivers are pounding footings for a new bridge to replace the 1937 Pattullo Bridge that links New Westminster and Surrey. Named after Premier Thomas Dufferin “Duff” Pattullo, the bridge inspired a 16-year-old Richmond high school student to build an exact replica in 1938–1939. Jack Lubzinsky crafted his model from 100,000 pieces of cedar; he later earned a scholarship to UBC, became a physicist, inventor, entrepreneur, and artist. He once told the Surrey Now-Leader, “That bridge changed my life.” Jack died at age 97 in the spring of 2021; his scale model lives on for all to see at the New Westminster Museum and Archives in the Anvil Centre.
6 From the Ashes
When wildfire tore through Lytton in June 2021 it destroyed homes, livelihoods, and most of the community. Two museums were also lost. Progress on reconstruction has been slow; meanwhile residents across the river from Lytton suffered losses during another fire in the summer 2022. About 240 items were recovered from the Lytton Chinese History Museum site with the assistance of the British Columbia Heritage Emergency Response Network (BC HERN).
Some will be suitable for future display when the museum is rebuilt. Owner Lorna Fandrich says, “The Chinese community and many others have been very supportive both in monetary donations and in donating artifacts that match those in the database. I am very grateful for their kind support.”
The Lytton Museum and Archives is attempting to rebuild its collection while it waits to hear when a new facility will be built. Museum chair Richard Forrest says almost everything was lost. “We did recover several items, but most are now just curiosities. A few ceramic items were recovered, some intact. Th e arrowheads and stone implements that we recovered were generally in good shape. Our two significant fossils were basically destroyed. The rest is gone.”
John Haugen from the Lytton First Nation lost a priceless Nlaka’pamux basket collection, but notes that donations have been off ered to the museum: “We have one offer from Pemberton Museum to repatriate a basket to Lytton; a lady from Maple Bay repatriated a basket her mother collected in 1932 from St. George’s residential school. A fellow Nlaka’pamux gave me a basket and brought it from Nova Scotia. However, a lot of [the town’s] evacuees are still in hotels.”