The Village of Cumberland draws its name from Great Britain, but the community’s rich multicultural heritage includes a significant Chinese contribution.
At one point in the past, Cumberland boasted one of the largest rural Chinatowns in North America. Today, the community is at the forefront of helping British Columbians learn more about this Chinese legacy. The Cumberland Museum and Archives joined a handful of museums to be the first in the province to put their inventory of Chinese historical records and artifacts in a computerized database.
The B.C. government and the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council (LIAC) are working in partnership with the University of Victoria, the B.C. Museums Association and select local and regional museums throughout the province on the pilot project. Inventories from about 10 other museums are expected to be completed in the fall of 2015.
The online database will contain culturally significant artifacts including Chinese coins, scrolls, photographs and historic texts, and will be made available to the public and researchers through library, museum and government online resources.
This coming weekend Teresa Wat, B.C.’s Minister of International Trade and Responsible for Multiculturalism will stop in the Village of Cumberland to see firsthand Cumberland’s rich ethnic and cultural history.
She’ll stroll through Coal Creek Heritage Park, once home to a bustling Chinatown, No. 1 Japanese Town and nearby historic Black settlement as workers in B.C.’s industries and communities were racially segregated. Today, the only structure at the Chinatown site is Jumbo’s Cabin, a rustic one-storey log building that was built in the 1880s and where Hor Sue Mah (aka Jumbo) lived for 50 years.
At the Cumberland Chinese Cemetery local experts will be on hand to explain its important link to the community’s coal mining history. The miners faced terrible working conditions with daily risks that included flooding, cave-ins and exposure to deadly gas.
Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism Teresa Wat -
“People from many different cultures and ethnicities played important roles in creating the province of B.C. but their stories haven’t always made it into the history books. That’s why it’s so important to preserve and document the heritage sites and artifacts such as those found in Cumberland and throughout the province in order to leave a legacy for all British Columbians. I encourage families to get out and explore these tucked-away places and learn more about the diversity of our history and B.C.’s pioneers.”
Vancouver Island University Department of Anthropology, Chair and Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council member Imogene Lim -
“When my grandfather arrived in Cumberland in 1890; he came as a laundryman. He did well in the community and became a merchant. Memories and ties still remain strong; on June 28th the Cumberland Chinatown Picnic Reunion Group will celebrate its 40th anniversary.”
- Chinese settlers arrived to Cumberland in 1888 when the first area coal mines opened. They worked in the mines and helped with the construction of the rail line that began operation in 1889 to ship coal from the mines to the deep water shipping port at Union Bay.
- Chinatown in Coal Creek Historic Park and the nearby Cumberland Chinese Cemetery are just two of 77 places that were nominated by British Columbians to be recognized as historically important to Chinese Canadian history. The B.C. government recently released the full list contained in the Historic Places Nomination Report: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/DownloadAsset?assetId=77A169108FAF4F3293BF789736CFA40B&filename=historic_places_nomination_report_may_15_2015.pdf
- The Historic Places project is one of eight legacy projects that are the result and inspiration of the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultations, where many participants advocated the preservation of Chinese Canadian cultural history. The purpose of the legacy projects is to commemorate the apology in the legislature on May 15, 2014, and to celebrate the achievements Chinese Canadians have made to the history, culture and economic prosperity of our province.
- In May 2014, a formal apology was delivered on behalf of all members of the B.C. legislative assembly to Chinese Canadians for historical wrongs committed by past provincial governments. A consultation report was released at the same time that outlined eight legacy projects, which included a recommendation to preserve Chinese Canadian cultural history.
- The B.C. government’s implementation of recommendations in The Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report is guided with advice from the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council (LIAC).
- The advisory council also works with Chinese Canadian communities and other key partners to ensure that the projects are known and communicated throughout the province.
Chinese Historical Wrongs Legacy Initiative Online Resource: http://www.gov.bc.ca/ChineseLegacyBC
Cumberland Museum and Archives: http://www.cumberlandmuseum.ca/
To learn more about Cumberland’s heritage: https://cumberland.ca/topics/heritage/
To view the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report and Recommendations: www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/downloads/Chinese_Consultation.pdf
Embrace BC - Province of B.C. multiculturalism site: www.embracebc.ca
Ministry of International Trade and and Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism