BC Day Five: Five Wild And Wonderful Facts You May Not Have Known About Local History

It’s the first Monday of the month, and while for some this means returning to work (with stat pay!), it also gives us a chance to reflect upon where this modern province of ours has come from. This particular Monday, in fact, marks the 41st annual BC Day, a civic holiday “dedicated to the pioneers who built the colony of British Columbia into the great province it is today.” As a National Historic Site, the onus is espeically on us to toss our two-cents into the historical pot. So, without further ado, we celebrate this BC Day with a list (best read with a snare drum and cymbals at hand of course).

5)It was once illegal to swear in public

It may be difficult to imagine today, but around the turn of the century Steveston had somewhat of a “Wild-West” reputation. With roughly 76 gambling facilities in town, and an “untold number” of “sporting houses” (aka brothels), debauchery was du jour as thousands of transient labourers came to work every summer in the booming salmon canning industry. Needless to say some were rather displeased to see their peaceable little town turned into sin city once the fishing season rolled around. So, following a 1897 bylaw requiring public observance of the Sunday Sabbath, in 1902, the “Public Morals bylaw” was passed, forbidding “profane, obscene, blasphemous or grossly insulting language in the Township of Richmond.” Better hope you don’t stub your toe.

4)Fort McSteveston?

In 1891, natural gas was discovered in Steveston, leading some to speculate that coal or oil might be found nearby as well. Formed in 1904, the Steveston Land and Oil Company was established to exploit this opportunity, inviting Texan engineers to begin exploration. Unfortunately for them, limited oil and limitless silt proved to be insurmountable challenges and Steveston never experienced its black gold rush.

The Steveston that could have been?

3)Racist Campaign Slogans

The 1911 federal election featured a heated showdown between Liberal incumbent Wilfred Laurier and Conservative Robert Borden. Trying to sway influential B.C. voters, both parties appealed to the caucasian population’s racial discourse. B.C. Liberals, targeting its fisherman audience, declared “White Fishermen Only!.” For their part, Conservatives campaigned across the country under the slogan “A White Canada.”

2)Tax us please!

Rarely if ever do businesses ask to pay taxes. Yet that’s exactly what happened in 1898 when Fraser River canneries, anxious over what appeared to be rapidly decreasing salmon stocks, asked the provincial government to tax them for the purposes of “protection, preservation and betterment of the salmon fisheries.” Three years later a provincial Fisheries Department was established, which served as the main regulator until 1913, when many of its functions were handed over to the federal government.

1)Named after an entertainer?

Although this last fact might be more widely known than the others, visitors to Richmond have often wondered where the name Lulu Island comes from. One theory goes as follows: whilst travelling between New Westminster and Victoria, Colonel Richard Moody, head of the Corps of Royal Engineers land surveying crew, found himself in conversation with a young singer and actress by the name of Lulu Sweet. When Sweet inquired about the name of a large southern island, Moody “gallantly bestowed her name upon it,” enshrining her name in Richmond lore.

2011: in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of this local tradition, Lulu Island is renamed Beyonce Island. #shouldhavehappened

For more information on these or other subjects, drop by and speak to our heritage interpreters! And as always, check out our fine selection of local history books in the Cannery Store!

Sources: Duncan Stacey & Susan Stacey Salmonopolis; John Boyko Last Steps to Freedom; Mitsuo Yesaki Sutebusuton

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