Caspar Institute logoitinerary   < 24 August Victoria   25 August Salt Spring Island >

Victoria, BC 24 August 2015


952 : 1121

Royal British Columbia Museum

The Royal British Columbia Museum's featured exhibit, 'Gold Rush', starts out by showing the importance of gold, especially in the Americas. The focus of the display was BC's own Gold Rush, up the Fraser River, starting with the discovery of gold there in 1858. Unlike the rushes to California, and Australia, before, and to New Zealand and the Klondike after, the museum portrays the BC rush as an orderly and lawful one, although it shared many of the qualities of the other, more lawless and violent rushes. This is attributed to the existence of a strong, British-led governance.

Okay, we'll accept that. What it fails to acknowledge is the violence to the land, and the inherent racism that the rush inflicted both on the Chinese who came to 'the Golden Mountain' from mainland China and California, and the 'Indians' -- what we politically correct Canadians now call 'the First Nations Peoples.'

Undeniably, however, the rush drove much civilizing activity in British Columbia and, to a degree, in neighboring Washington. British-style governance persists here, although clearly the influence of the paranoid big brother to the south is overtaking what civilzation still exists here.

<p>pre-Colombian ‘Bat-man’</p>

pre-Colombian ‘Bat-man’

953 : 1110

One aspect of civilization lacking in California was the British love of precision and right, as exemplified here by the tools and procedures used to make sure that gold was within Canada's boundaries, and claims were properly surveyed. This 2-day chronometer was used by the surveying team that established the border between the US and Canada.

954 : 1098

Third Floor: First Nations

<p>Foreground, a dugout canoe filled...

Foreground, a dugout canoe filled with potlatch boxes. Background: disassembled House Poles

955 : 1092

The Canadians, especially the British Columbians, are trying to leave their history of outrageous racism behind, and to this end have dedicated a whole floor to the people of the land, with emphasis on pre-European life patterns. This room is filled with what have been called 'totem poles' but are really house poles ...and a house isn't so much a residence as it is a hall. In the background is a magnificent (and unphotographable) example of such a room ...used, incidentally, for extra-governmental deliberations like the naming of the three new ferry boats that will sail the Salish Sea (the part of the Inland Passage north of the islands.)

The first part of the First Nations exhibit dealt with the amazing diversity of languages among the people of the Islands and western Coastal tribes. Despite the misapprehension of the Brits who came to spread civilization amongst the heathens -- One premier, named Smithe, declared that 'When we came here, you were scarcely better than animals" -- despite a wild diversity of languages, formation myths, methods of cultivating nature to improve yields, and many other 'civilized' traits that appear to evade the Europeans to this day.

One of the misunderstandings was of the gifting, or potlatch, culture. The Brits thought it was impoverishing 'the Indians.' They sought to stamp it out by making the native languages as well as the exchanging of gifts illegal. As with the Great Bully to the south, 'Indian' children were taken away from their families and villages and put in concentration camps masquerading as schools. (Yes, it pisses me off and embarrasses me, to have been part of the oppressor here and in Hawaii, and in so many other places where Christianity and Civilization were used to camouflage greed and insensitivity. So much has been lost, and those who work hard to regain it are so heroic!)

It's hard for white-eyed people like myself to separate the truth from the misperceptions institutionalized by the racists who encountered the First Nations Peoples before their lives were polluted. We brought disease as well as disrespect. Within the first ten years of European domination, in excess of 80% of the First Nations Peoples were wiped off the face of the earth.

Luckily, the 20% that survived kept their languages and cultures hidden and more or less intact, and have stubbornly worked to bring them back to respectability. Greed and racism still infect the Canadian government, but BC, like the other West Coast civilizations, resists.

<p>The whole Bella Coola House Pole</p>

The whole Bella Coola House Pole

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<p>Box Crab</p>

Box Crab

The Museum also puts good energy into understanding the rich natural environment hereabouts. This has been a tradition here going clear back to the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778, 'the first white man to set foot...' yada yada.

BC, like Washington, Oregon, and California, is in the throes of an unprecedented (as far as anyone can tell) drought, and here, at least, attention is being paid -- one whole wall of exhibits -- to the forced migration of species, some who 'like it hot' and others who are moving farther north. BC's official Christmas Tree is a Sequoia sempervirens far north of the northern boundary of its historic range ... but who knows? It may be another survivor.

 

958 : 1042

Yet the fossil record shows that tropical conditions existed along the Canadian and Alaskan coast at one time (likely due to a shift in the planet's poles.) Life -- most life -- will adapt, and even evolve. That is one of the best lessons taught by the First Nations.

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