Listening for whispers from the past: uncovering Bowen's diverse heritage

We know quite a lot about the early European settlers on Bowen Island, especially in the steamship era, but what about those from non-European cultures? What about the Chinese and Japanese people who worked at the explosives factory in Tunstall Bay, who were loggers and miners or worked for the Steamship company? And what about the First Nations peoples who were here before the settlers came?

We don’t have much information about non-Europeans, and much of what we do have is in the form of vague, unattributed and unverifiable stories. It would be great to get some more details to enrich our knowledge of the history of the island. 

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I have returned from the Heritage BC 2019 conference fired up to explore a richer, broader heritage of Bowen. 

One of the workshops of the conference focused on how to discover and tell the stories of marginalised communities that may not be around any more to tell their own story. Those people may not have had access to photographs, may not have owned land, may have only lived here for time-limited work and many of their stories, their culture and almost all traces of their lives are now lost from the island. But there are still some traces that we can uncover, with a little persistence and our best history-detective skills. There are stories that our island elders remember or stories that they were told. And there may be traces in maps and census data or other archival documents that can add detail or confirm locations. 

If this is a project that inspires you, please get in touch with me, Melissa Harrison. And if you have stories to tell, no matter how little detail is contained in them or if the story is third hand or more, please contact Cathy at Museum and Archives ( We are hoping to build a map of the island that charts all of the locations and details we can uncover. And if we can find enough that is worth the telling we will be sure to share the stories with you. 

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