As Columbo used to say, “Just one more t’ing…”this just in from filmmaker extraordinaire Alejandro Yoshizawa, who documented the Cedar-Bamboo Fraser River Rafting Expedition:
“I figured everyone (including myself) would be eager to see some of the footage, so I put together a VERY QUICK clip just to get a sense of the trip. Feel free to show the other participants as well. It can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/73050762
I also include a short film clip of rafters enjoying the rapids on the first day. Mylo, age 8, still looks stunned by the experience, but by the third day he was at the front of the raft eager to be soaked by the waves! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b0E-zjjCLY
Sincerely; Prof. Henry Yu, Associate Professor, Dept. of History, UBC
For Chinese Canadian elders Larry Chow, author of Dim Sum Stories, and Lily Chow, author of Sojourners in the North and other important books about Chinese Canadian history in B.C., the river raft trip might have seemed too much a challenge for those in their senior years, especially for 82-year old Lily Chow. But it was “worth it to see these important historical sites.” In fact, they worried about the need to create some kind of preservation policy to make sure that future generations will be able to see and study these invaluable sites. Without protection, this important history will be lost and younger generations like those who went along on this trip will not be able to have the same learning experience.”
The expedition also involved students and researchers from UBC who made a film focusing on the experiences of the Chinese Canadians on the trip as they explored the rich history of the Fraser River, including the importance of relationships between Chinese and the First Nations who lived there. UBC graduate student Sarah Ling, CCHSBC’s student representative, whose research on Chinese Canadian farms on Musqueam reserve at the mouth of the Fraser River, brought a unique perspective on the trip, noting how Chinese migrants 150 years ago were respectful of the customs and land of First Nations where they mined and worked. They would dig for gold while being careful to leave “sacred sites untouched” and built good relations, in contrast to the way that many of the other miners treated indigenous peoples. Sarah was the recent recipient at UBC of the Chinese Railroad Workers Commemorative Scholarship, and so being able to see firsthand on the banks of the Fraser the railroad that the Chinese built was a fitting way to honour the workers for which the scholarship was endowed (they captured many images of First Nations use of the river, including these drying racks and shelters along the banks).
From the impressive historical sites left by Chinese miners, to the exhilarating rapids at Hell’s Gate and Sailor’s Bar, everyone had fun and learned about just how important Chinese migrants up the Fraser had been to B.C. history. For Dr. Henry Yu, born and raised in British Columbia, being able to see history come alive along every step of the Fraser River was a once in a lifetime experience. “I study this every day of my life, but it’s a totally different thing to read it in a book versus seeing and touching it right in front of you.” He thought of his own great-grandfather travelling up the Fraser to Lillooet, where he had worked in logging and mining camps, and became emotional when he realized that he might be walking in his very footsteps. For Dr. Yu, the trip brought together in profound way his work as a scholar of history and his own personal history as descendent of pioneer Chinese Canadian migrants.
Chloe, age 9, loved the feeling of camping on the beach and being able “to see so many stars” that she had never seen living in the city, and realizing how bright the full moon really was at night (not to mention wild life: this is a June Bug that became our companion at one of our Campsites).
For Mylo, the youngest member of the expedition at age 8, riding the river rapids was the funnest part of the trip. At first, he had been “scared thinking about Hell’s Gate” but by the end of the trip, he was riding at the front of the boat and eager to get to rush to the next rapids!
For the Chinese Canadians who took part in the expedition, being able to literally walk in the footsteps of Chinese miners and labourers was often a moving experience. Imagining the hard work that it must have taken to travel up the Fraser River and work together to build such impressive walls transformed history lessons from school into something much more real for the children and teens who went on the trip. Teenagers James and Hovy talked about how they learned things that they had never been taught in social studies about the importance of Chinese Canadians in the Gold Rush and in building the railway, and Hovy remarked that seeing the work that had gone into the stone walls at Browning reminded him of the feelings he had when he saw the Great Wall of China.
The Fraser River Raft Expedition organized by the New Pathways to Gold Society and the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia was a great success. We had participants from ages 8 to 82, with three of the dozen rafters above the age of 70, and three teenagers, all eager to have a unique experience that combined the fun and excitement of rafting on the Fraser River with the educational experience of visiting rarely-seen historical sites from the Gold Rush and the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Some of the intricately built stone walls used by Chinese miners to create water ditches to look for gold over 150 years ago still remain intact as if they had just left yesterday. Trails that they had created through walking back and forth across the forests every day still show in the landscape.
Professor Henry Yu of UBC is one of the key organizers of the Cedar-Bamboo Fraser River Rafting Expedition from Lillooet to Yale, August 20-22. A joint-project of the New Pathways to Gold Society and the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of B.C., the expedition took a party of Chinese Canadians and other adventurers on a journey to learn more about the connection between the early Chinese pioneers and the First Nations of the Fraser. Here are Henry’s first impressions of the trip…