Dave Obee       Local History / Family History

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dave obee Sakura in Stone: Victoria's Japanese Legacy
By Gordon and Ann-Lee Switzer
Ti-Jean Press, 102 pp., $14.95

Watershed Moments: A Pictorial History of Courtenay and District
By Christine Dickinson, Deborah Griffiths, Judy Hagen and Catherine Siba
Harbour, 224 pp., $34.95

Our Whole Bamfield Saga: Pioneer Life on Vancouver Island's West Coast
By Judith Phillips
Self-published, 189 pp., $40

Reviewed by Dave Obee

Local history books help us to understand the stories of our communities and how they have come to be the way that they are today. These three books do that, in different ways.

Sakura in Stone is a small book that looks at a small community: the Japanese presence in Victoria. This, the second book on the topic by Gordon and Ann-Lee Switzer, expands and illuminates the material in their first book, 2012's Gateway to Promise.

The history of the Japanese legacy here is straightforward and sad. The first people from Japan arrived in 1884, and over the years the Japanese-Canadian community became a highly respected part of life in Victoria. Our beautiful colourful sakura trees are a lasting tribute to our neighbours from Japan.

The outbreak of the war in the Pacific changed everything. After a 1942 government order, Japanese Canadians were not allowed within 100 miles of the coast, so they were taken away, and most of their property

taken from them. None of the Japanese Canadians here at the start of the war returned, and Victoria was poorer for that.

Along with the basic history, the Switzers write of the first Japanese person in Victoria. They have also included a substantial section on the Japanese Canadians who are buried in Ross Bay Cemetery.

Watershed Moments is a spectacular collection of photographs from the early days of Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland, Forbidden Plateau, Goose Spit, Merville, Royston and Union Bay - basically the communities within the watershed of the Courtenay River. This book offers a sample of the finest images in the Courtenay and District Museum, from the late 1800s to the present day. Many of the photographs have never been published before, so Watershed Moments offers something fresh and different for all readers.

The quality of the photographs is remarkable. The words, from four writers who share a keen interest in local history, help to tie everything together.

Our Whole Bamfield Saga by Judith Phillips is part family history and part community history, but that makes sense. Bamfield is, and was, a small place, so anyone who was there for very long was considered part of the family.

Besides, Phillips has family connections that give her added insight into the history of Bamfield. A couple of simple family trees at the start of the book help guide the reader into the stories, which include letters - love letters, in fact - and extensive interviews. It's all brought together by Phillips, and richly illustrated with photographs, maps and reproductions of documents. She has included enough context that her story is easy to understand and appreciate. She talks of the First World War, of Belgium, of the coastal steamer service, of early Victoria, and much more.

The book is an enjoyable read, and you don't need to be from Bamfield to appreciate the story.

This review was published in the Times Colonist on January 17, 2016


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