Lest we forget our multi-cultural history

The commemorative kiosks for East Lillooet, Minto and Bridge River Japanese Canadian internment sites will soon be completed. Moreover, our province has promised two large “stop of interest” highway signs for East Lillooet in the spring. The Japanese Canadians, many I know with parents and relatives who were incarcerated in these self-supporting camps will now have a place to pay their respects.

Recently, Dr. Aki Horii, a survivor of the East Lillooet Japanese Canadian internment camp opened his presentation at the Miyazaki House by discussing the history of the Chinese Canadian labourers in B.C. Ted Margrett who recorded this talk said he was especially moved by Dr. Horii’s kindness towards the Chinese due to their shared experiences of anti-Oriental discrimination during the last century. Ted added “Multiculturalism is what I love about Canada…” I could not agree more.

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In the past, Chinese Canadians lived and worked in Lillooet, and played a significant part in our collective pioneer history along with the Japanese Canadians and the rest of our town’s diverse immigrants both past and present. Our local issue of Chinese graves date back over a century and a half ago when they first came during the Fraser Gold Rush and then as workers to build the CPR railway linking BC to the rest of Canada. Many died here but in those days, they were not permitted to be buried in the Lillooet cemetery; hence the creation of a specific Chinese Cemetery, which was somehow terminated after the 1938 survey plan redefining the boundaries of Lillooet.  Over time, Chinese burials also occurred on the land south of the current cemetery. That gradually fell into neglect when the Chinese left the area.  Throughout BC, there are many neglected burial sites including those of aboriginal people’s, and they are all protected by law from disturbance or desecration.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that translates: “Under Heaven One Family”. On a personal level, my children are literally of mixed St’at’imc, Japanese, European and Chinese ancestry and I want them to learn about their heritage. So last week, we visited the new Chinese Canadian museum in Lytton. The community of Ashcroft also created a memorial site to honour the Chinese Canadians in their area.

Meanwhile, today China has become the fastest growing tourist market the planet has ever seen and is now the world’s most dynamic economy. BC has been accorded preferred tourist destination status by China. There is a potential to attract tourists to a properly documented, maintained and protected Chinese burial site which is tangible evidence linking the histories of both countries.

Lillooet has an opportunity now to highlight and develop various sites drawing from the rich multicultural past. Can you imagine, one day a playwright may take interest in scripting the tales of the Chinese miners, legendary Frank Gott, friendship between Artie Phair and Dr. Miyazaki, or his adventures on horseback tending to births, deaths, and the sick.  Or perhaps one day, our recently restored Miyazaki House could become a movie set…                                   

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