BC Heritage Sites: Northern BC Visit

BC Heritage Sites • December 5, 2023

This October, BC Heritage Sites Coordinators Linda Kawamoto Reid and Lane McGarrity travelled north to Prince Rupert and the surrounding areas to assess the existing infrastructure and forge in-person connections with some of the key people in the region.

Key representatives from North Pacific Cannery, Port Edward Historical Society, Archivist Jean Eiers-Page from Prince Rupert Archives are instrumental in building a commemorative project in Northern BC. The North Pacific Cannery emerged as a promising collaboration site, boasting National historical significance and designated spaces for telling a fuller story of JC history of the surrounding areas of the Nass & Skeena Rivers. Prince Rupert Archives revealed ledger pages listing Japanese Canadians who worked at the canneries. Our meeting with Ging̱olx Village Government highlighted the historical bond formed by such people as Robert Banno and Ging̱olx, which resulted in an offer of collaboration to restore the JC graves and monuments in their cemetery. Understanding the ongoing treaty negotiations in the region and Kitsumkalum’s dedication to protecting a sacred cemetery in Port Essington was an essential take away.

We asked Linda and Lane about their impressions of the trip.

What was the significance of the trip?

LINDA Seeing the remote areas of where Japanese Canadians fished, lived and worked provided me with an enhanced feeling of awe and respect for those early pioneers trying to eke out a living for their families. And how in spite of all odds, they built a solid, close community to raise good Canadian citizens.

LANE The significance of the trip to Northern BC for me lies in the potential for preserving and commemorating the rich history of the region. The meetings with key figures from North Pacific Cannery, Prince Rupert Archives, and Ging̱olx Village highlighted a commitment to safeguarding heritage, fostering collaborations, and addressing urgent preservation needs. Given the abundance of history in the area and the limited research conducted thus far, this journey proved pivotal in recognizing the urgency and significance of these preservation and commemoration efforts.

What came as a surprise to you?

LANE I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent suitability of the North Pacific Cannery for narrating the story of Japanese Canadians in the Northwest. The presence of Japanese Canadian bunkhouses, displays, the existing Port Essington exhibit, and the expansive site with ample space collectively offer a distinctive opportunity for storytelling. This becomes even more compelling given the substantial annual foot traffic the site attracts.

LINDA It was a bonus to be warmly welcomed into the First Nations governments of the Kitsumkalum and Gingolx people who expressed comradery with the Japanese Canadians that they worked alongside in the north. It was a treat to hear stories passed down from generations about boat building, fishing and relationships and to share similar cultural nuances such as ancestor worship.

Japanese Canadian Legacies are initiatives that honour our elders past and present. We are grateful to be doing this work on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish peoples.