Saltspring Island Field Trip

ACVI group at the Heiwa Garden with Rose Murakami

With Rose Murakami at the Heiwa Garden

Yesterday it was my pleasure to guide a group of ACVI researchers around Saltspring Island where I live. We got to some important sites for the Asian-Canadian history of the island and learned about some of the cultures that have been prominent in its history.

In the morning the group gathered at the Salt Spring Archive, a beautiful facility on the second of floor of the island’s new library. Unfortunately, archivists and ACVI collaborators Frank Neumann and Gillian Watson had other commitments and were unavailable, but we started our tour with an excellent overview of island’s First Nations history by Chris Arnett, a local author, historian and UBC doctoral candidate. In his research over the last several decades, Chris has compiled a great deal of evidence that refutes the popular notion that First Nations people only used the island on a seasonal basis, and clarified land and resource ownership systems that were in use in the centuries preceding the arrival of European and Asian settlers. It was a fascinating talk, and all of us wished that we had more time to hear more.

At the restored charcoal kiln

At the restored charcoal kiln

From the archive we walked the short path through to the Heiwa Garden, where we met up with Rose Murakami and my wife, Rumiko Kanesaka. Rose outlined the story of the uprooting of 77 Japanese-Canadians from the island in 1942 and the liquidation of their property against their wishes. In the face of continued racism after the war, the Murakami family made the decision to return to Saltspring and start over. With hard work and perseverance they have thrived, but the injustice that they suffered will not be forgotten. Rose and Rumiko told the group about the creation of the Heiwa Garden, as a place of reconciliation for the injustices of the past, and a memorial to the contribution of the island’s Japanese-Canadian pioneers.

At the restored charcoal kiln – photo: Jillan Valpy

The Japanese Garden Society has recently undertaken a project to restore a charcoal kiln that was found in nearby Mouat Park, and Rose and Rumiko guided us to it and told us the story of its building, rediscovery and restoration. Built by Isaburo Tasaka some time after his family’s arrival on the island in 1905 and used until they left in 1929, the Tasaka family produced charcoal for use in salmon canneries, and for the manufacture of soap and dynamite. After two kilns were rediscovered several years ago the Japanese Garden Society resolved to restore the larger of the two with the help of the CRD and PARC, and with the help of Steve Nemtin, a local expert on charcoal kilns from nearby Galiano Island.

On Russell Island

On Russell Island

Saying goodbye to Rose and Rumiko, the group went down to Fulford Harbour and after some lunch in the Rock Salt Cafe, boarded a pontoon boat and traveled to Russell Island, just south of Saltspring and part of Gulf Islands National Park. Russell Island was the site of a Kanaka homestead (the Kanakas were people of Hawaiian heritage) and there were a number of Kanaka properties on Russell Island, Portland Island and the south end of Saltspring Island. On Russell the house of Maria Mahoi has been preserved as a museum, and we were met there by Nathan Cardinal of Parks Canada who gave us a tour of the house and surrounding property, and the story of Maria Mahoi’s life there. During the months of July and August Mahoi family members living in the area come to stay on the island and give interpretive talks to visitors.

Maria Mahoi House on Russell Island

Maria Mahoi House on Russell Island

After returning to Saltspring, the group drove out Beaver Point Road to Cusheon Cove to visit the small private museum there created by Chris Hatfield, who owned the property before donating it to the province for use as a park. Chris was there to meet us and gave us a synopsis of his research into the lumber mill that existed on the site that employed many workers from China and Japan. No structures remain on the property, but Chris has spent years excavating artifacts that were left behind, including a large amount of broken Chinese and Japanese pottery. The Cusheon Cove sawmill was built by the Bulman family from England, and later changed ownership several times before its wharf collapsed and the mill closed in 1926. Much research remains to be done on the Asian-Canadian history of the Cusheon Cove sawmill.

At the Bulman Museum at Cusheon Cove

At the Bulman Museum at Cusheon Cove

Cusheon Cove was the last stop on our tour – from there our group headed for ferries leaving from Fulford Harbour, Vesuvius and Long Harbour, and I returned home. It was a brief survey, but an enjoyable tour of some important sites of Asian-Canadian history on Saltspring Island.

At the Bulman Museum at Cusheon Cove - photo by Jillan Valpy

At the Bulman Museum at Cusheon Cove – photo: Jillan Valpy