Signage Project Receives British Columbia Historic Federation Award of Merit

Mighty Museum consultants Anna and Michelle believe that learning uncomfortable histories is an important step towards eliminating racism. They first met while developing a small museum on Vancouver Island. Their critical approach to radical programming, exhibits and events won the museum a Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming. And recently, an interpretive signage project they worked on with the Village of Cumberland received a British Columbia Historic Federation Award of Merit.

The signage project located at Coal Creek Historic Park in Cumberland BC tells an uncomfortable history. The project commemorates Japanese Canadians who lived in Cumberland from 1891 until 1942. This once vibrant community initially grew as contract labourers journeyed from Japan to work in the No.1 coal mine. Discriminated against with wages half those of white mine workers, they toiled away, many losing their lives in deadly mine explosions. Lucky enough to leave the mines, Matsutaro Iwasa opened Matsutaro General Store, while others worked at the Japanese owned Royston Lumber Mill. Sadly, these business were seized in 1942 under the War Measures Act. Japanese Canadians were removed from BC’s coast and placed in internment camps. The sale of their property and businesses were used to pay for their detention. While a story of injustice is told, also found woven throughout the signage text is a story of cultural resiliency and a deep connection to nature and home.

While developing interpretive text for the signage, Michelle connected with Japanese Canadian residents and descendants of Cumberland and area, now living across Canada. Archival photos from the museum as well as photos from those interviewed are featured. Anna designed the signage, creating a peaceful visual experience which complements the beauty of the park. A walk along the meandering pathways, past cherry trees, a bubbling creek and majestic forests provides visitors with space to contemplate the past and future.