BC Heritage Fairs Alumni

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Examining Controversial Figures — March 12, 2020

Examining Controversial Figures

By Daniel, Junior Council

All images created by the author


Canada is a very diverse country. The Indigenous peoples of Canada have intricate and unique customs, as do all the other citizens of this nation, some of whom hail from many places across the world. But as we learn more about our nation’s history, it would appear that everything is not quite so rosy as it seems, for there are some very controversial figures that stand out from all the others.


Daniel1Take, for instance, the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John Alexander Macdonald. It can be observed that for quite some time he has been idolized for creating Canada, by bureaucrats and workers alike, but the fact remains that he was an outspoken racist and an advocate for residential schools. Despite his controversies about race and his misogynistic outlook on women, even today he has been praised by conservatives and liberals alike for the creation of Canada – his legacy is still contested to this day. Like many debates, both sides to this argument have points which may be considered rational by some, but the fact remains that John A. Macdonald was a flawed leader.


Daniel2Another controversial Canadian would be Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie. He was the first Chief Justice of British Columbia, and was lionized for some time – one historian, J.S. Matthews, wrote: “In actuality, Begbie was one of the kindest judges who ever graced a B.C. court. He hanged men for murder because that was the penalty for murder. But the hangings always took place after a fair trial by 12 jurors.” Nevertheless, Begbie has maintained the dubious distinction of being a “Hanging Judge” – he had five Tsilhqot’in men hanged in the year 1864 for participating in a violent standoff, who would be exonerated by BC Premier Christy Clark 150 years later. Even so, his defenders pointed out how he was against segregationist policies and made many connections with the Indigenous people in the province, so the debate is still an active one. Just a few years ago, a statue of Matthew Begbie was torn down, so that might show how our country has started to look at him under a more critical lens.


Daniel3And interestingly, one of the most exemplified Prime Ministers of Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie King (whose face emblazons the $50 bill) has been subject to criticism as well. Despite his technocratic and modernizing style which revolutionized the national economy, his Liberal administration, the government of Canada during the Second World War, was responsible for a wrongdoing on a grotesque scale: under his leadership the St. Louis, a ship carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, was turned away from Canada and sent back to the anti-Semitism-stricken continent of Europe (where many would die). His obstinate leadership has also been called into question. Even so, he remains a key figure in Canadian history, and has been ranked very highly amongst the Prime Ministers of Canada.


In summary, some Canadians have been criticised and others condemned for their wrong actions. In the 21st century, we have been realizing what wrong things some people we may have celebrated had perpetrated. In the end, no leader or historical figure is perfect, yet no leader or historical figure is without praise (how rational the support is is determined in proportion to the historical figure). Controversial people are embedded within the pages of history, but it is really up to you to decide whether or not they were right in their actions.

Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site — February 29, 2020

Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site

by Liam, Junior Council

Have you ever heard of Fort Rodd Hill?  It is one of my favourite historical places on Vancouver Island and it is a National Historic Site. I attended the BC Provincial Heritage Fair last summer which included a field trip to this historic site, and it was amazing to learn so much about the history!

Photo credit: BCHFS Archives

Fort Rodd Hill is a historical military fortress that was active for over 50 years (1895 to 1956) during the First and Second World Wars.

Photo credit: BCHFS Archives

It would defend the Canadian West Coast and was designed to protect against sea attacks. There are command posts, secret bunkers, barracks, underground magazines, and many other things to protect and repel threats.

The site is now a historical museum with lots of information about it and what was taking place in the world when it was operating.

I could spend a whole day exploring the buildings and the site, and you can even go inside the Fisgard Lighthouse. The Fisgard Lighthouse was built in the mid 1800’s and back then the government paid lighthouse keepers just over $100.00 per year.

Fisgard Lighthouse circa 1920s, taken from: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/bc/fortroddhill/culture/fisgard-lighthouse

Between 1860 and 1928, 12 people (including one woman) served as keepers at Fisgard Lighthouse:

  • George Davies, 1860–1861
  • John Watson, 1861
  • W.H. Bevis, 1861–1879
  • Amelia Bevis, 1879–1880
  • Henry Cogan, 1880–1884
  • Joseph Dare, 1884–1898
  • W. Cormack, 1898
  • John Davies, 1898
  • Douglas MacKenzie, 1898–1900
  • Andrew Deacon, 1900–1901
  • George Johnson, 1901–1909
  • Josiah Gosse, 1909–1928
Photo credit: BCHFS Archives

Ways to be Creative & Ways to Display your Heritage Fair Project — February 28, 2020

Ways to be Creative & Ways to Display your Heritage Fair Project

by Christi, Senior Council


Two of the most common questions that teachers and mentors receive are: How do I be creative with my project? and How should I display my project? It’s so easy to slap the material on the tri-fold board and call it a day, but being able to arrange your ideas in a creative and thoughtful way requires a little more additional scheming. 


First, it is important to note that this is your project. Although it is all about Canadian history, judges will always look to see if you have included your personal ideas and opinions. Your thoughts show that you have used critical thinking, and that you’ve analyzed every minuscule detail; the true qualities of a young historian! Try to consistently incorporate your unbiased thoughts into your interview and into your display, and be sure to always keep it in relation to your inquiry question. 


Throughout my four years of creating successful heritage fair projects, I’ve noticed that including a creative aspect always impresses. While only some regions require you to have a creative aspect, it is smart to have at least one nonetheless. It shows that you have put in the effort to go above and beyond simply writing facts and paragraphs. And, a creative aspect can pretty much be anything! Judges love to see something in your display that you have made from scratch. One idea is to have an artifact as a creative element.


For example, if you are creating a project on Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer in the 1600’s, you can make an old looking map of the areas in Canada that he colonized, or a message in a bottle. If you are creating a project on Women’s Suffrage, you can dress to impress by wearing 19th century apparel during your interview, or you can add to your project display by decorating your title board with eye catching, authentic looking protest signs. If you are creating a project about Canada’s role in The Second World War, you can make a journal with entries written from the perspective of a Canadian soldier in the Dieppe Raid. The possibilities are endless! 


While brainstorming for more ways to improve your project, Rachel, the Alumni Program Manager, introduced me to Sarah McLeod, who is a teacher librarian from South Vancouver Island. She is pushing her students to branch out from using the standard tri-fold board. They had a mission to be less wasteful with their materials and resources so that they can comply with their school’s policy of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Basic materials such as cardboard and paper were repurposed to display their project in a creative way. This is a great idea that is sure to stand out!


Here are two great examples of Sarah’s student’s projects:

Left: This student wrote a book, and displayed her images using CD’s and picture frames found around her school; Right: This student made a suitcase out of cardboard to present the information.


Your project display is extremely important. This is what gives your audience their first impression of your project. Obviously, it should be appealing to the eye, but it also should be able to provide anyone with an idea of what your topic is about with one glance. A good project display is able to tell a Canadian story all on its own. While most projects look neat and tidy, only a few look unique and inspiring. 


At the starting level, a satisfactory display will have a few Canadian symbols, but it may not relate specifically to your topic. Try to stay away from the most basic designs such as the Canadian maple leaf, because it’s something everyone can do and it isn’t individual to your project. As you elevate your project display to the more advanced level, you should start to add more intricate and thoughtful visuals that are designed to command attention and give the wow-factor.


Here is one simple test you can do to see if your project has a good display. If you cover up the title, are you still able to tell what the project is about? 

project by: Unknown

This project is about Japantown. It has a good display because if you take the title away, you can tell that the topic is about something in relation to Japan. The symbol that gives this away is the cherry blossom. The neat borders around the text and images help to make the project look more put together.

project by: Colin Yeung, Richmond Regional Heritage Fair 2017

This student has added a few creative elements to his project about Chris Hadfield. It has a beautiful design of a spaceship’s window in the middle, and if you look through it, you can see Earth and the moon. The text and images are arranged very carefully and neatly. This is an excellent project display.


I hope this provided some helpful insight on what judges are looking for, and gave some inspiration on what you can do creatively for your project. Best of luck and have fun at Heritage Fair!

How to Choose a Heritage Fair Topic — February 5, 2020

How to Choose a Heritage Fair Topic

Did you know that over on our Instagram we’ve been doing #FairFridays? If not, now you do! Last week, Julia spoke about how to choose a Heritage Fair topic. Rachel has also been sharing topic ideas with #TopicTuesday! As you can tell, topics and how to pick them have really been on our minds here at Alumni HQ. Here’s Leona with a blog post with even more information about how to choose your Heritage Fair topic!

by Leona, Senior Council

When it comes to choosing a heritage fair topic, it is easy to understand why it may be difficult. I’ve participated in the Heritage Fair for 3 years, and I made sure to choose a meaningful topic each year. When you choose a topic that genuinely interests you, the project-making experience will be ten times better. There are many different logistical things to consider when choosing a heritage fair project topic. 


  1. Is there sufficient information on this topic? Are there several resources I could use to get information on this topic? Are there both primary and secondary sources?
  2. Can I personally relate to this topic? Does it interest me?
  3. Will my targeted audience be able to relate and understand this topic? Will they find it interesting?
  4. Is this topic important and worth sharing with my community? 


You can easily start your topic picking with a history-related topic you already know of; perhaps something you’ve learnt in social studies class this year that made you sit at the edge of your seat in eager anticipation to learn more. Take a look around you, in your home, where you can find fascinating heritage stories hidden in the photographs and souvenirs that your family holds tight. Or take a walk in your community and look at the buildings, monuments, and memorials that may perhaps inspire you to do a little more research. Is there someone you look up to, whether a family member or a famous politician? Can you imagine the incredible stories the friendly neighbourhood grandma has been eagerly waiting to tell? Heritage fair is an opportunity to give those who are often left unheard, a voice; a voice to tell their insightful stories to the community, through our youth with you! 


Make connections with your community and ask your family and friends about their life stories. Whether it’s their immigration or experiences with war, may that inspire you to go further and research (for example) on the Chinese Immigration Act or World War II. Visit a local museum and allow yourself to be swept away in the rich history the simple architecture and battle weapons on display may have to offer.


What are some current events that catch your interest? It could be the government system and how it has come to be with the influences of incredible politicians, or it could be the history of viruses in Canada. There are endless possibilities of topics linked with current events happening today. 


Don’t stress about choosing a topic because eventually, something inspiring will come to you. A great heritage fair topic is one that you could do never-ending research on. A deep thinking heritage fair topic is one that your questions are never-ending for. Best of luck!


Tips and Tricks for Interviews — January 24, 2020

Tips and Tricks for Interviews

By Arwen (Senior Council)

Do you want a fun interesting way to get information for your Heritage Fair project?  Do an interview!

Figuring out where you can find people to interview for your project is not that hard depending on what, where, and when your project is in history. You might want to interview an expert on a subject, a person in a related field, or you might even find a person who experienced the event personally and is able to share with you and teach you about their personal experiences. I’ve heard of interviews with grandparents, Hydro plant managers, authors, and RCMP dog handlers. There are many great interviews just waiting to happen!

One of the most challenging things about interviewing people for Heritage Fair projects is figuring out ways to get in contact with them, especially if you don’t know them beforehand and they don’t live in your community.  If you look online, you can often find that people can be contacted through Facebook, Skype, email, Instagram, and other social media platforms. You may need to dig a little. For example, for one of my projects, I read a book about the event I was researching, Canada House orphanage during the Fall of Phnom Penh. I really wanted to contact the author, so my mom and I googled her. When we found the news stories about the book release, they included her Facebook profile. We messaged her using Facebook Messenger to arrange an interview, and she invited us for an interview and lunch. It was an amazing experience!

You don’t always have to travel to your interviewee for the interview because sometimes that is not an option, either because of distance or your schedule, but you can use things like Facetime, Skype, or the telephone. Really, any platform that allows you to be able to talk to them so you can ask questions and get information for your project is a good way to interview them. For one of my Heritage Fair projects, I wanted to interview the mayor of Dawson City, Yukon Territory. I couldn’t go to Dawson City to meet with him (I live on Vancouver Island) so we Facetimed and it worked great!

When interviewing people you want to be able to have very clear questions like who, what, where, why, when, and how, but not always questions that are easy to discover using other research. Those questions are good to ask because then you can get information on lots of different aspects of your project. It’s also a good idea to prepare questions before meeting with your interviewee and do your research. For example, when doing a Heritage Fair project about heritage homes, I researched online and in the archives, however I also interviewed one of my family friends whose job was moving old houses and asked questions about different hazards that could be in old homes, like asbestos and lead.  I didn’t know a lot about what went into making houses in the past and his information and input really helped me understand my project better.

I would definitely recommend interviewing people for projects because it helps understand your project from a different point of view and gives new perspectives on your subject. It can also let you learn information that you might not be able to find anywhere else. You may even find that your interview leads to a great experience or a lasting friendship. 

Battlements of UBC — October 13, 2019

Battlements of UBC

Today we have another guest post from Tracy, talking about her visit to the Battlements at UBC. Are you a Provincial Fair Alumnus? Want to be featured in a guest post? Join our Alumni Program (separate from the Alumni Council) today! Unlike the Alumni Council, there’s no year-long commitment, and you can pick and choose the pieces of the Alumni’s work that you enjoy. 


Battlements of UBC

UBC has military secrets of its own. This defense system was built to prepare for the Second World War, but it was never used. It’s known as the Point Grey Battery. It was garrisoned by the 58th Battery of the 15th Coast Artillery Brigade, RCA.

The main battlements consist of three gun emplacements, now around where the Museum of Anthropology is located. Emplacements #1 and #3 are on either side of the museum, whereas #2 is in the interior of the MOA, used as a centrepiece. The former #2 gun pit is now used to display Bill Reid’s carving “Raven and the First Men.”

The emplacements were two-story structures, the upper level housing the gun, and the 2nd level the magazine storage. The gun pits were only connected by underground tunnels and supported by battery buildings. The buildings were large enough to house approx. 250 men, complete with a mess hall and a recreation area.

The gun pits housed one 6” MK 7 each, and each gun was mounted on a MK 2 Shielded Barbette mount. A 6-pound Hotchkiss was used as an examination gun.

Farther down, on Wreck Beach, the Point Grey Battery also housed two 60” coast defense searchlights, complete with concrete shelters. They were numbers 9 and 10 out of 10 total Vancouver coastal searchlights.

The Point Grey Battery was deactivated in 1948 and soon after the battery buildings were torn down to make room for the MOA, but you can still visit the searchlights and #1 & #3 gun pits today.

Billy Proctor — September 23, 2019

Billy Proctor

Today we have a guest blog post by Tracy, who attended the 2019 Provincial Fair in Victoria.

Editor’s note: Billy Proctor’s books are linked in the text to IndieBound, which allows you to search for stock at an independent bookstore near you. We do not get any funds from sales purchased through these links, we just love supporting independent bookstores. 


The Human Encyclopedia of the Broughton Archipelago

Billy Proctor is often called the “heart of the community” in not just the island he lives on, but the coastal areas around him as well. Billy is a well-known figure in the seas of northern Vancouver Island, and has been fishing in the Broughton Archipelago for over 7 decades. When he was young, he worked as a logger, trapper, and commercial fisherman, and has now dedicated himself to preserving marine ecosystems.

In his small residence in Echo Bay, Billy opened “Billy’s Museum,” the name of the museum spelled out with pink salmon lures. It’s a small wooden lodge, filled with interesting things Billy found while beachcombing, each specially labelled and classified. Artefacts range from old glass bottles to ancient spearheads to multiple species of animal tooth. “They’re not garbage,” he laughs when asked to explain. “It’s a hobby, eh?”

Not far from “Billy’s Museum,” Billy has also carefully hand-built a logger’s shack, and a schoolhouse from the 85th School District. The logger’s shack was built exactly the same way a logger would have built it, complete with rusted boots and a pair of dirty socks. The schoolhouse is tiny, with only enough room for three desks and a small piano. Beside the schoolhouse is a small bookshop where you can buy some of the books Billy has written, including Full Moon, Flood Tide and Heart of the Raincoast.

Before we left, I had the chance to flip through Full Moon, Flood Tide, which is a guide to the Broughton Archipelago in Billy’s experiences. There are stories of many famous people, throughout nearly 100 small villages scattered around the area. And I was awed by how the Indigenous Peoples used the full moon, flood tide to trap salmon.

Salmon protection is a big issue for permanent residents like Billy. Most of Billy’s profits in the bookshop go to protecting wild salmon, and both he and Captain Bruce, the owner of Paddler’s Inn, are concerned about salmon farms. “Most of the farms are placed near important migration routes,” Bruce says. He’s worried about parasites and diseases that come from farmed salmon spreading to the wild. Already the wild salmon population has seen a decline, and with that decline the orca population in the Johnstone Strait and Blackfish Sound have seen downfall as well. Now only 250 orcas roam the Broughton Archipelago.

What do we do to help the wild salmon? “Take the farms away,” Billy states bluntly. But if the salmon farms are removed, we’ll have to depend solely on the wild salmon population to feed the people, which will most certainly cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem. What do we do? I feel that Billy Proctor and Captain Bruce are feeling unsure as well.

Billy Proctor’s Museum in Echo Bay is only accessible by boat or kayak.

It’s Time! Applications Are Live! — September 14, 2019

It’s Time! Applications Are Live!

You heard it here first folks, our applications for the 2019-2020 year are now live! This year, we’re introducing a couple of new things, both of which you can apply for on the above-linked applications page.


The Junior Council

The Junior Council is open to Alumni in grades 7 or lower. This is a great way for our youngest Alumni to get involved with the program, with age appropriate opportunities and support. The Junior Council will complete blog and social media posts, as well as participate in monthly calls and complete a major project – details to be decided by the council, and their leader Vedanshi.


The Senior Council

The Senior Council is open to Alumni in grades 8-12. This is a great way for our older Alumni to hone their leadership skills, as well as become mentors for the Junior Council members. Students will be involved in completing blog and social media posts, as well as monthly calls and a major project – details to be decided by the council, and their leader Keilin. Student assistants for the Provincial Fair will be chosen from the Senior Council.


The Alumni Program

The Alumni Program is open to all students who want to be involved with the Society, but for any reason are not able to be involved with the Council. This is ideal for students who:

  • aren’t sure how much time they have to commit
  • are only interested in something specific, like blog posts, Facebook posts, or Instagram
  • want to test the waters of what it’s like to be part of the alumni team
  • have another specific way they’d like to contribute, without being part of the full Alumni Council


So what are you waiting for? Apply today to join our expanded Alumni Team. Deadline to apply for the Councils is October 4, at 5pm, and the Program will have rolling intake. Please reach out to Rachel, Alumni Program Manager, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns. Her email can be found on the application forms.

“Taking Reconcili-Action” with Heritage Fairs — August 31, 2019

“Taking Reconcili-Action” with Heritage Fairs

by Lucas and Leona

Lucas: Last month, as the 2019 Provincial Fair was just getting under way, a project that had been progressing for months was also coming to fruition.


Back in March, Jennifer Iredale (a board member with the BCHFS) approached me with a project idea: “Taking Reconcili-Action,” she called it. If we interviewed Indigenous elders in the Saanich area and then uploaded those videos on the BCHFS website as inspiration for other students around the province to approach their local Indigenous elders, we could empower young people to create connections in their community and start an open dialogue. Reconciliation is a collaborative process, after all, and we should all play an active role in making our communities more inclusive and recognizing stories of the past. 


I was on board right away, and we were able to set up interviews with STOLȻEȽ (John Elliott), a language teacher and elder of the Tsartlip First Nation; TEMOSEN (Charles Elliott), a master carver; Chris Paul, a Tsartlip artist; and Pena Elliott, a Tsartlip member and student. Before the interviews, Leona, Kevin, and I, all alumni council members, had done extensive research about each interviewee as well as proper protocol and oral history tips. 


On Tuesday, July 2, Jennifer Iredale and I drove out to interview John, Charles, and Chris. Our talks were originally planned to last around half-an-hour each, but by the time we finished our last interview, we had spent more than five hours speaking to them! Our conversations ranged from their work and current projects to more broad topics like the importance of educating youth about Indigenous culture in schools. They were all incredibly thoughtful and provided me with a lot to think about; I certainly left with more questions than answers. 


Leona: A few of the alumni had the privilege of interviewing Pená; a representative for the Saanich peoples. We asked him several questions and documented everything on film. It was enlightening to discover a whole different perspective on controversial topics such as the school curriculum, representation in the modern world, Indigenous reconciliation, and the concept of being truly Canadian. Pená taught us a lot in regards to an Indigenous viewpoint on normal everyday scenarios. Some of his teachings should be applied to huge environmental factors that we face today. One point he made was that the Indigenous peoples only took the number of resources they needed to survive. They never exploited any resources and sought to conserve important necessities like food, for example, salmon.


Pená is a really easy person to talk to, and he answered a lot of our questions, one of which was: what do you think teachers can do to apply Indigenous teachings and incorporate that into the school curriculum? His answer was that he believes all teachers should first be well educated on the correct way and words to refer to Indigenous peoples. In addition to that, teachers should be educated on Indigenous traditions and truths, therefore they can then convey these teachings to their students in a creative manner. In doing this project, BC Heritage Fairs was hoping to bring light to First Peoples and their importance in our society; to give the Saanich people, who aren’t recognized enough,  the opportunity to be heard. BC Heritage Fairs Society believes that this recorded interview can hopefully provide teachers and influential leaders with the inspiration they need to start incorporating the recognition of Indigenous peoples in their everyday lives. We hope that by doing this, we strengthen reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. 


Lucas: A big thank-you is in order to Laura Saretsky, Paul Gravett, and others from Heritage BC, whose extremely generous grant from the 2019 Heritage Legacy Fund made this project possible. Thank you as well to Jennifer, Kevin, Leona, Rachel, Evan, and others whose support has been and continues to be invaluable. Stay tuned for more updates as the finished product develops.

The Royal BC Museum — August 14, 2019

The Royal BC Museum

Today we’re continuing our series sharing memories from this year’s Provincial Fair participants both here and on our Facebook page. Today, we have a post from Tracy about her visit to the Royal BC Museum.

When I was told we were visiting the Royal BC Museum, well, I’ll just say that I couldn’t stop internally squealing all the way there.

The Minions (led by Lorna, consisting of Summer, Russ, Anglin, Daniel, Valerie, and me) started in the Discovering BC exhibit. The eye-catcher was a huge ship with many seagulls – who we named Bobby, Joey, Steve, Banana, and Billy Bob Joe. There was an area talking about the Gold Rush, but we were most interested in the gold panning station – except there were no pans. So, we used our hands so scoop up the gravel, which didn’t work too well.

Gold Nugget from the Discovering BC Exhibit

We moved on to the Our Living Languages exhibit, then to the First People’s Gallery, which is where Anglin and I lost the rest of the Minions. We ran through displays with chaperone Rachel following behind, marveling at gold nuggets, totems, mine shafts, and the taxidermy seagull. We explored the BC’s Natural History exhibit, discovered the fur trade, and learned about the importance of logging. There even was a live tide pool with a fish called Fred, which a staff member explained to us.

Seals Laying on Rocks in the Natural History Exhibit

Once we got out of the natural history exhibit, I practically sprinted into Maya – The Great Jaguar Rises, dodging people and saying quite a few “sorry’s.” At this point in the exhibition, our vocabulary mainly consisted of “Lookit this woooaaahhhhh holyyyy heckkkkkk howwwwwwww” “whaaaaatttt the hecckkkkk, that’s AMAAAAZINGGGG!”  and “Cooooolllll!”

Carving of a Mayan King Standing on top of a Prisoner

The hall was filled with sculptures and slabs of stone carved with kings, queens and gods, ceramic bowls painted with parades of warriors, and even a carving depicting a young prince making his first sacrifice… blood from his penis.

Looking at the many bowls, vases, urns, and more, I asked, “how do the colours stay after, like, thousands of years?”  Then somehow, Rachel ended up taking a video for Twitter – using #askanarcheologist – asking about the Mayan paint-making process. The answers we got involved crushed bugs and different minerals.

Ceramic Bowl Painted with Mayan Warriors

We discovered jade sculptures, obsidian spearpoints, and a birchbark paper that A) somehow lasted with vibrant colours for a few millennia, and B) looked like cardboard before I read the sign.

Mayan Bark Paper

Really, it was over all too soon, and we were forcefully removed from the museum (read: told it was time to go). And I guess this post proves Summer’s calling me a history geek, but the Royal BC Museum really is more than just a museum – it’s an experience that can last a lifetime.