Gods in a woodshed

History is literally being made - and re-made - as the final touches are added to a new cultural museum that recognizes the contributions and sacrifice of more than 17,000 Chinese labourers who helped build a vital railway link through the Fraser Canyon in the 1800s.

The Lytton Chinese History Museum, on the grounds of a former Chinese Joss House, officially opens its doors on May 13 with a Buddhist blessing from the Lions Gate Priory and a performance by a renowned group of Lion Dancers.

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The Opening Ceremonies begin at 11:30 a.m. at the museum, located at 145 Main Street.

Because the following day is Mother’s Day, attendees are welcome to bring their families to tour the museum.

The Lion Dancers will be under the direction of Master Raymond Cheung, Shaolin Hung Gar Kung Fu Association

The site has already been granted Official Heritage Status by the Province of British Columbia.

The museum traces the history of Chinese inhabitants of the Lytton area from 1858 to 1928 and includes nearly 200 period artifacts collected from throughout the interior of the province.

The new museum is on land that once held the Lytton Joss House, as it was informally known. That structure, built in 1881, was removed in about 1928 and the land sat vacant until it was purchased in 1980 by Kumsheen Rafting.

Prior to 1881, a temple was built as a focal point for all the Chinese in the Lytton area. It served as a guest house, community meeting space, and place of religion. Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, and Shen Nong, the God of Agriculture, were among the deities honoured there.

The Lytton Chinese History Museum will be a reconstruction of the 1881 Chinese Temple. Although not a functioning temple, it will be respectful of the religious significance of the earlier temple and will include an altar and area for study and meditation.

Avid history buff and Kumsheen co-owner Lorna Fandrich, along with her husband Bernie, became fascinated with the site’s history after reading a 1933 Vancouver Provincearticle called “Gods in a Lytton Woodshed.” The piece detailed some of the site’s spiritual history and a controversy over the land’s ownership.

The article sparked Lorna Fandrich’s 30-year odyssey that led to her vow to build a place  that recognized the contribution of the area’s workers of Chinese heritage.

“I noticed a Lytton resident of Chinese ancestry coming to the land each day and bowing,” Fandrich recalls. “I had to find out more.”

The quest led Fandrich to intensely study the site’s history, acquire artifacts, travel to Buddhist temples in California and assemble a panel of experts to help spearhead the project.

The museum’s exhibits tell stories focusing on the B.C. gold rush, railway construction through the Fraser Canyon, cultural customs and practices, and the hurdles faced by Chinese labourers.

The project’s collaborators include noted historian, teacher and author Lily Chow, as well as Burnaby resident Peter Chong, 94, a former Lytton merchant, and many others, including Bernie Fandrich, who spent days painstakingly clearing the site in preparation for construction.

The project stems from the Apology for Historical Wrongs against Chinese-Canadians that was issued by the B.C. government in 2014.

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