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Bear Flat Dispatch: How history is told

The recent report of changes to the third floor exhibits at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria as part of ‘decolonization’ efforts has garnered some public interest.
BearFlat-LorneLeach
Historical colour slide of Lorne Leach at Stan Weston's property, at the top of Bear Flat, c. the 1950s. (Fort St. John North Peace Museum Archives/2012.058.068)

The recent report of changes to the third floor exhibits at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria as part of ‘decolonization’ efforts has garnered some public interest.

Included in that change is the removal of the exhibit modelled after pioneer Hector Tremblay’s farm in Pouce Coupe. People have an interest and pride in history, especially the history that relates to them, and when they feel that the telling of that history is being messed with, they naturally become concerned.

We have an interesting history here in the Peace Region. There has been over 10,000 years of continuous habitation by Indigenous people, and it was only in 1793 when the first contact was made with outside people in the form of the historic Alexander Mackenzie journey to the Pacific Ocean.

That was followed by just over a century of mostly fur trade activity before the next and biggest wave of newcomers showed up. The homestead and agriculture settlement of the Peace Region is just over 100 years old, and was soon followed by a frenzy of resource development and extraction. The last 120 years have by far seen the most changes and impacts in the history of this region.

I remember Blanche Hipkiss (nee Dopp) visiting our place and telling about when she moved to Bear Flat as a young girl with her family in 1917. She recalled that the natives were camped on the river flat with teepees and horses and still leading a mostly traditional nomadic lifestyle. The story of the surveying of the Peace River Block and the following homestead settlement has been well recorded and is very interesting. I have read a lot of good books on the ‘pioneer’ settlement of this region, and they are fascinating. But I have often wondered about the native story of that same period of time. How was it for them to see the changes that were happening?

They had recently signed Treaty 8, but I can only imagine what it was like to see the influx of settlers and homesteads springing up on surveyed plots of land. Likely some of the best campsites that had been used ‘forever’ were taken up, and many ancient travel routes became disrupted in various ways. The changes to this region and their lives were drastic with the added complications of racism, alcohol, residential schools, etc.

I think we often overlook that not only did Indigenous peoples have a long history here before Mackenzie, but they have been here ever since, and they have a story to tell. How we tell history needs to include that.

I feel sadness for the Tremblay display coming down, but maybe after 40 years it was time to be refreshed anyway. It is very important for the homestead and agriculture settlement of the Peace Region to be shown, and I trust that will continue, but perhaps with more inclusiveness and better understanding of the whole story. That change is slowly happening throughout the museums of Canada.


Ken Boon lives and writes at Bear Flat.