The province’s largest historical organization successfully conducted its first virtual conference in partnership with the Surrey Historical Society (June 3 to 5). British Columbia Historical Federation president Shannon Bettles challenged delegates to “reach out in your communities for unheard stories and new storytellers and find ways to support their work — even if you just begin by listening.“ BCHF members represent historical societies, community museums and archives in the province.
The recent discovery of 215 child graves at the former Kamloops Residential School is a grim reminder of Canada’s racist past and need for healing. “Reflect on how we are each implicated by history: read and understand the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and support them as far as your organization is able to do so,” Bettles said.
The conference also highlighted Surrey’s rich history and those who work to preserve it. Dr Kyle Jackson and his history students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University use new digital tools to save endangered artifacts and documents. Students shared work using new apps and podcasts that contrast the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918–1920 with today’s Covid-19 pandemic.
Delegates heard Baltej Dhillon describe his fight to be the first RCMP member in Canada permitted to wear a Sikh turban. Thirty years ago this sparked a national debate and even death threats. He remarked, “I had a bit of a tiff with the country.” The retired RCMP officer is writing a book about his journey, and hopes to help Canadians move beyond tolerance to acceptance.
Virtual field trips included the story behind the International Peace Arch, the world’s first monument to global peace that celebrates a centennial this year. BC Electric’s fascinating Interurban history was shared by the Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Society, and delegates heard stories of those buried in Surrey Centre Cemetery, final resting place of Surrey’s earliest community-builders. Other presentations highlighted forgotten Francophone history in Surrey, and the art of Metis boat building. Poet Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Surrey’s poet laureate (2015-18), encouraged BCHF members to keep silenced voices in our communities alive. She called historians “seed savers.”
The conference concluded with an Awards Gala that included the annual Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing which carries the largest cash prize for such writing in B.C. ($2,500). Congratulations to Catherine Clement whose book Chinatown Through A Wide Lens explores the photography and legacy of Yucho Chow, Vancouver’s first Chinese photographer.
The virtual conference successfully connected people from across the province; members are looking forward to next year when the BC Historical Federation will mark its 100th anniversary as public, non-profit organization.
Awards and scholarships presented at Virtual Gala:
1st place: $2,500 Catherine Clement, Chinatown Through A Wide Lens
2nd place: $1,500 Debra Griffiths, Christine Dickinson, Judy Hagen, Catherine Siba, Step Into Wilderness: A Pictorial History of Outdoor Exploration in and around the Comox Valley
3rd place: $500 Lara Campbell, A Great Revolutionary Wave: Women and the Vote in British Columbia
Community History Book Award
$500 Peter Smith, Silver Rush: British Columbia’s Silvery Slocan 1891 – 1900
Centennial Legacy Fund grants were awarded to the Stewart Historical Society to identify and commemorate people buried in two destroyed cemeteries ($2,200); Jonathan Kalmakoff for research into the land holdings of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood (Doukhobors) ($2,200); and Catherine Clement, Chinese Canadian Military Museum and Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC for further research into the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act, the creation of an archive and an exhibit ($4,000).
Inspiration Awards: people and organizations adapting in Covid times
Jennifer Nell Barr: Victoria researcher, writer, This Old House book series, and volunteer coordinator at Victoria Heritage Foundation
Al Donnelly: Boundary Historical Society, researcher and volunteer
Christopher Stevenson: Boundary Heritage Facebook Group host since 2013
Aman Johal: Interpreter at Fort Langley National Historic Site and trivia quiz master
Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC: mobilized community to create and sell hand-made cloth face masks
Tami Quiring: Alder Grove Heritage Society: Community Heritage Day “walk-thru”
Gabriel Newman: Interpreter at Vernon’s O’Keefe Historical Ranch, “The Loneliest Interpreter” videos
W.Kaye Lamb Scholarship (First & Second Year)
Calvin Thalheimer, Kelowna (Okanagan College Arts Program)
W.Kaye Lamb Scholarship (Third and Fourth Year)
Olivia Daniel, Maple Ridge (University of the Fraser Valley)
Best News and Media
Natalia Deros, Heritage Abbotsford Society’s Stores to Spaces: Local Community Places social media campaign
Anne and Philip Yandle Best Article Award
Jacqueline Pearce and Jean-Pierre Antonio for Haiku in Tashme: The Legacy of Sukeo “Sam” Sameshima (British Columbia History magazine)
Awards of Appreciation
Caroline Ross, Parksville, retiring from BCHF council
Michael Gibbs, Surrey, retiring from BCHF council
Christine Muetzner, Manager of Nanaimo Community Archives for 25 years
T.W. Paterson, Cowichan Valley historian and local author
Award of Merit
Paul Koroscil, Naramata, SFU historical geographer, author, Friends of Fintry Society