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Front Words with Mark Forsythe

8 Mar 2024 10:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

An excerpt from the Spring 2024 edition of British Columbia History

Elasmosaur at Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre. Photo: Courtenay and District Museum website

1 Fossil Feat

Move over Pacific dogwood and Stellar’s jay—make room for a new provincial symbol. A fossilized marine reptile that lived 80 million years ago, when BC was mostly underwater, is now the province’s official fossil emblem. The fossilized remains of an elasmosaur were discovered by Mike Trask and his daughter Heather while exploring the shoreline of the Puntledge River in 1988. The 12-metre-long beast (withvery sharp teeth) now receives visitors at the Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre, wherea second specimen, discovered in 2020, is also housed.

An online vote for an official fossil emblem was launched in 2018 by the province and BC Paleontological Alliance. The Puntledge elasmosaur faced some tough competition that included an ancestor of the Pacific salmon and an ancient crab. Deborah Griffiths, executive director at the museum in Courtenay, says the elasmosaur fossil is a remarkable discovery from BC’s prehistoric past, “and now, as the official provincial fossil, will help spark further interest in BC’s ancient ecosystems, while supporting palaeontological work, STEAM education [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math] and tourism in this province.”

Take a selfie with BC’s official fossil during your next visit to Courtenay.

2 Nature and Conservation
“The question is not what you look at but what you see.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Keeping any volunteer organization alive and relevant is an achievement, so multiple cheers for the Langley Field Naturalists group which has endured and thrived for half a century. To commemorate, the nonprofit has published On The Trail: 50 Years of Engaging with Nature (Hancock House). The decades have been marked by rapid urban expansion and the group has been central to helping save areas like Campbell Valley Regional Park and Brydon Lagoon (a former portage route for Indigenous peoples and, more recently, a sewage lagoon converted into a beloved local pond.)

The book’s colour photos are complemented by meticulous sketches from the late Glenn Ryder, a citizen naturalist who compiled an estimated 1.4 million field notes of plants and animals in BC and the Yukon. His efforts now form a baseline to measure the effects of climate change. It was Ryder’s call to conserve what is now Campbell Valley Regional Park that drew like-minded conservationists together like a family of determined corvids. On the Trail highlights conservation struggles and victories; habitat restoration efforts; educational campaigns; and field trips in search of bugs, birds, and bats. These are 50 years worth celebrating.

Learn more about the Langley Field Naturalists Society at

3 Lost Soldier Remembered

Jack Gin was astonished to learn that a Chinese Canadian kid named Fred Lee volunteered for Canada during the First World War. “As a child who grew up in Canada, educated here, we didn’t hear these stories”, says Jack. So the engineer and entrepreneur went in search of Fred’s story and he created an award-winning documentary in the process.

Finding Fred Lee is told through Gin’s eyes as he journeys to Lee’s hometown of Kamloops to uncover traces of this forgotten son. Lee was an honour roll student, the son of a pioneer businessman, and he signed up with the Rocky Mountain Rangers (a militia regiment in the Canadian army) at a time when Chinese Canadians couldn’t vote. Most could not hold a traditional job. He left town on the CPR—the railway that his father supplied with timbers and that thousands of Chinese men helped build. Lee survived Vimy with the 47th Battalion but was killed during the battle for Hill 70. Though the hill was captured, 1,877 Canadians lost their lives. He was 21 years old and his remains were never found.

The documentary takes viewers to a recently commemorated Hill 70 Memorial Park at Lens, France. A walkway emblazoned with maple leafs is named after Fred Lee, who is remembered on a panel dedicated to him. Jack Gin located Fred Lee’s nephew, and the search continues for other family members. The film has screened in Kamloops, at the Canadian War Museum, and at the Asian Film Festival in Vancouver, and it has won the best short documentary award at the International Art Festival in Berlin. Private Fred Lee is no longer forgotten.

Portrait of E.J. Hughes by Russell Treloar. Courtesy of Shawnigan Lake Museum

4 Museum Makeover

It’s been 40 years since the Shawnigan Lake Museum took over the town’s old firehall, and today space is at a premium. There’s no storage area or room for programming and events; staff and volunteers are shoehorned into very limited office space. Executive director Lori Treloar says the museum is a victim of its own success: “The community has donated stories and artifacts over the years and continues to do so … Shawnigan has a big story that needs to be shared!”

A campaign to expand the facility by approximately 3,000 square feet (278 square metres) was launched in 2016 thanks to a $100,00 donation. Grants and fundraising have generated more than $3 million (most recently a $500,000 grant from BC’s Destination Development Fund). Construction costs spiked following the Covid pandemic and some cuts were necessary, but the project is well underway with a reopening  planned for Canada Day, 2024.

The E.J. Hughes Gallery will quadruple in size with plans to share more about his life and work at Shawnigan Lake, and it will highlight other significant local artists. A Kinsol Trestle Interpretation Centre will be added, and the larger space will allow more exhibitions and community gatherings. As Lori says, “The expansion project is about future-proofing the museum.”

Pithouses of Keatley Creek. Courtesy of Greg Dickson

5 Reading the Landscape

As you explore BC, keep your eyes peeled for signs of human history etched into hills and valleys. Remnants of the 576-kilometre-long Dewdney Trail that linked Fort Hope with Fort Steele in the East Kootenay can still be accessed in many places. Scramble up the scree beside the Similkameen River near Princeton onto a narrow, flat trail and it’s not hard to imagine miners in pursuit of gold in the 1860s. An old railbed near Royston, on Vancouver Island, whispers mining and logging history as coal, timber, and people were carried by train to the seaport at Union Bay. The Royston to Cumberland Rail Trail is an easy hike beneath the forest canopy.

Just upstream from Lillooet at Keatley Creek an array of circular depressions radiates across a bench high above the Fraser River. On the traditional territory of the St’át’imc peoples, more than 115 pithouses mark this as one of the largest prehistoric sites in Western Canada. The featured photo was snapped by British Columbia Historical Federation member Greg Dickson. “It was awe-inspiring in its dramatic setting and beauty. An incredible insight into human settlement two thousand years ago.”

Archaeologist Brian Hayden spent decades studying the site and his book, The Pithouses of Keatley Creek, 2nd ed., can be read at Another valuable resource is People of the Middle Fraser Canyon: An Archaeological History, by Anna Marie Prentiss and Ian Kuijt (UBC Press). The nearby Bridge River Indian Band also operates Xwísten Experience Tours and hosts visits to other pithouse sites from June until September. Visit the tour website at Happy travels, and don’t forget your binoculars.

Robin Fisher, guest in British Columbia Review’s YouTube interview series. Photo: Courtesy of British Columbia Review

6 In Their Own Words

Historian, biographer, and former CBC journalist Trevor Marc Hughes knows how to pose questions that allow authors to tell their stories. Hughes and the British Columbia Review (formerly the Ormsby Review) have launched a YouTube channel that features short, revealing interviews with BC authors—many with connections to BC history.

First up: Robin Fisher. The British Columbia Historical Federation awarded him the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing for his biography Wilson Duff : Coming Back, A Life. Others interviewed in this expanding series include Chilcotin/Cariboo writer Sage Birchwater; Briony Penn, biographer of scientist, naturalist, and educator Ian McTaggart Cowan; and Alan Twigg, who discusses his decades-long quest to put the spotlight on BC authors via BC Bookworld and Most interviews can be viewed in 10 minutes or less and just might prompt the viewer to dash out and locate a copy of the authors’ books. Mission accomplished. Visit the British Columbia Review interview series at •

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

British Columbia Historical Federation
PO Box 448, Fort Langley, BC, Canada, V1M 2R7


The Secretariat of the BCHF is located on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish speaking Peoples. 

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