BCHF News Front Words with Mark Forsythe

Front Words with Mark Forsythe

An excerpt from the Spring 2023 issue of British Columbia History magazine.

The Hope station in its original location in the 1970s. (Courtesy of Tashme Museum)

1Saved at the Bell
Just over two years ago, the 1916 Hope Canadian National Railway Station was destined for the wrecker’s ball, until an army of citizens launched a grassroots campaign that resulted in a rescue plan. A stop work order was issued, a Statement of Significance created, and ultimately, the station house was saved.

Japanese Canadians carrying their belongings are loaded into the back of trucks at Hope station house in 1942. (Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre NNMCC, L2021-2-1-002)

The Tashme Historical Society stepped up and negotiated with the District of Hope for almost a year, and now the society is the proud owner of this historic train station. The society operates the Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum, southeast of Hope.

In 1942 more than 2,600 Japanese Canadians were interned at Tashme. Men, women, and children forcibly removed from the west coast were loaded into the back of trucks at Hope Station House for the two-hour journey to a rudimentary camp where there was no running water or electricity.

Museum manager Ryan Ellan draws a strong link between the station house and the story of Japanese internment. He told the Hope Standard: “There were nearly 9,000 Japanese-Canadians that got off trains at the Hope Station House…to be transferred to the other internment camps throughout BC. Or off the train, at Hope Station House, to the waiting trucks to make the 14-mile trek to Tashme.”

The Hope Station House will be relocated to 919 Water Avenue to become the town’s visitor information centre and community museum.

Merchant Yip Sang and family members in front of the Wing Sang Company building, 51 East Pender Street. (City of Vancouver Archives AM1108-S4-: CVA 689-52)

2New Museum inside Chinatown’s Oldest Building
The Chinese Canadian Museum is preparing to open this summer in the Wing Sang Building, in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Built by Yip Sang in 1889, the brick structure tripled in size as his import/export business grew. Yip Sang was the Chinese agent for the CPR who brought in 6,000–7,000 workers. To most people he was the unofficial mayor of Chinatown.

The building was more recently owned by real estate marketer Bob Rennie. A $27.5 million grant from the provincial government and a $7.8 million donation from Rennie allowed the Chinese Canadian Museum Society of BC to acquire the restored building. One hundred years after the Chinese Exclusion Act—which halted almost all migration from China—the new museum will honour Chinese Canadian history. Grace Wong, chair of the society, told CBC, “We want to reflect the stories of not only Vancouver but all of BC, and ultimately across the country.”

Keyohwhudachun headdress (Mayoo Kehoh Society and Royal Ontario Museum)

3Ancestral Headdress Returns Home
A headdress belonging to a Susk’uz family has been repatriated from the Royal Ontario Museum. Made from female human hair, baleen, and seashells, the headdress is physical evidence of governance over territory by the Maiyoo Keyoh, a family grouping on the north shore of Beaver Lake near Fort St James. Following a repatriation ceremony, the headdress is now the focal point of a new exhibit at The Exploration Place, in Prince George.

Keyohwudachun (chief) Petra A’Huille, great-great-granddaughter of George A’Huille, who once wore the headdress, described seeing it for the first time: “I never thought that I would see something like that in my life. Just to touch it … my great-great-grandmothers’ hair—it’s still there after maybe 200 years.”

Murray Sinclair, chair of the Indian and Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission, spoke via a virtual link. “That’s the beginning of reconciliation—stop hiding us from ourselves, hiding away our sense of identity.” He congratulated the Royal Ontario Museum, the BC Museums Association, and The Exploration Place for helping ensure the headdress was returned 140 years after it was taken. His message for the Maiyoo Kehoh: “This will allow you to talk to your young people about a very important part of their connection with the history of your nation.”

More about the exhibit here: https://tinyurl.com/mr3feazw.

Ferry wharf, crowds and automobiles at North Vancouver captured in 1914. (NVMA 2976)

4You Are Here @ The Shipyards
North Vancouver’s Shipyards District has been transformed over the last dozen years. Wallace Shipyards once employed thousands of people, and the Lower Lonsdale area was a major transportation hub for trains, ferries, and other ships. Over time, the industrial area fell into decline, and the City of North Vancouver spearheaded revitalization plans.

New development includes galleries, restaurants, housing, and open public space; its industrial heritage is preserved through historic docks, buildings, and giant cranes. The Museum of North Vancouver (MONOVA) opened in the area (Esplanade West) in 2021 and has launched a new exhibit space with You Are Here @ The Shipyards.

Acting MONOVA director Laurel Lawry says they wanted to introduce themselves to the neighbourhood. “Since time immemorial, this place has served as a gathering place for Indigenous peoples, for those arriving in North Vancouver, and to the commercial and industrial drivers—we see the new, vibrant Shipyards District as a culmination of those experiences and transformations.” Artifacts, oral history, and multimedia displays will share the Shipyards story until the end of 2023. Watch a BC Historical Federation interview about MONOVA here: https://tinyurl.com/bdfz7vck.

Rendering of Salishan Place by the River. (Courtesy Township of Langley)

5salishan Place by the River
Boxes filled with cherished artifacts have arrived and exhibit development is underway. The new salishan Place cultural centre at Fort Langley is a project of the Township of Langley and the Kwantlen, Katzie, Matsqui, and Semiahmoo First Nations. The three-storey facility incorporates natural materials like Douglas fir and western red cedar and replaces the Langley Centennial Museum built in 1958. salishan Place also marks a new approach to how museums tellstories, and whose stories are shared.

The Coast Salish cedar basket motif on the building’s exterior offers a clue: a weaving together of strands of history from the area’s multiple cultural perspectives. The drum is a prominent design feature, connecting people from around the world. The Township of Langley’s director of Arts, Culture and Community Initiatives, Peter Tulumello, calls it “an all-inclusive, single museum.” Interpretive themes that emerged from community consultations include welcoming, inclusivity, collaboration, reflection, and advancing truth and reconciliation. A soft opening of salishan Place by the River is planned for the end of the summer.

Editor Barbara Price with newly published Mack Laing book. (Submitted photo)

680-Year-Old Memoir Published
Ontario-born artist, photographer, writer, veteran, and noted naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing arrived in the Comox Valley in 1922. It was love at first sight. Laing bought five acres on the shoreline for $750, built a kit home, and cleared land to create Baybrook Nut Farm. Following his wife, Ethel’s, death, he built another home nearby called Shakesides.

Between 1922 and 1944 he wrote a manuscript about their lives and experiences in the Comox Valley, but it was never published. Baybrook: Life’s Best Adventure has now been printed 80 years later by the Comox Archives and Museum Society. Editor Barbara Price says, “It is a great privilege to bring this book to life 80 years after it was written. Mack Laing, an early Canadian naturalist, so wanted this manuscript published. It is a story of love and simplicity and living off the land. His message is as fresh today as when he wrote it.”

Laing died in 1982 at the age of 99; Mack Laing Nature Park remains as part of his legacy.

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