Vancouver, British Columbia
A 2-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle took us over the Canadian border and up to Vancouver. Our primary destination was the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) on the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia (remember my husband, the anthropologist?).
We were lucky enough to arrive just in time for a tour given by Bill McLennen, the museum’s curator. He has worked at the MOA for 37 years and will retire at the end of October 2013. Bill led us through the special exhibit “Speaking to Memory: Images and Voices from St. Michael’s Residential School”. The Indian residential school system was implemented in 1879 by the Canadian government to eliminate the “Indian problem” by absorbing the Aboriginal population into the dominant Canadian identity by imposing Christianity, English or French language and the abandonment of cultural and family traditions. This exhibit tells the story of St. Michael’s Indian Residential School that was operated from 1929 to 1974 in the village of Alert Bay on Comorant Island. During the late 1930s, Beverley Brown, a student at the school was given a camera and photographed her friends and classmates. She recently donated the photos to the MoA archives. Many of the children were not identified when she donated the photos. The photos are now hung with a transparent sheet on top. Felt pens are available in the exhibit and individuals are encouraged to write in the names of the children they recognise.
Bill McLennan was allowed access to the now deteriorating building to photograph the interior where the children had lived and studied. These photos and those of Beverly Brown are displayed, along with testimonials from former students, quotations from government sources explaining the rationale for Indian residential schools, and excerpts from the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that recognise the devastating impact of the schools. Between 1993 and 2001, four of Canada’s churches issued formal apologies for the part they played in the residential schools. Their apologies are reproduced on ceiling to floor panels hung in front of a large window that looks out on a peaceful park.
The weather was splendid so we rented bikes and did the tour around False Creek, an amazing way to experience a well-planned city that puts its citizens first.
We loved Vancouver. But how can one not like a city that has statues like these….