Vancouver Regional Heritage Fair: a Celebration of a Transgenerational Community

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By Susan Tsang

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 3.40.05 PMAt one thirty-eight in a clear May afternoon, steady streams of nine to twelve-year-old students participating the Vancouver Regional Heritage Fair filed into the Seniors’ Lounge at the Kerrisdale Community Centre. They were all armed with folded poster boards that were half their sizes and equipped with presentation models that they had prepared for months, ready to present their research topics on Canadian history to the visitors. The visitors’ questions and the presenters’ answers outperformed each other generating an escalating hum like rushing water. At the edge of the floor, I met Elwin and the story of Hudson locomotives of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) from the nineteenth century. 

After detailing the origin and contributions of the trans-Canada railroad, Elwin said, “We need to pass knowledge on. How would anyone know the steam engines existed if we don’t pass it on?” A question immediately rose to my mind: why do we need to impose our history onto someone else? Steam engine is an old technology, why do we bother to learn about it? It seemed like it has a commonsense and straightforward answer, but I wanted to take the opportunity of being at a history event that allows me to dig answers from our young generation. I, too, had a research question and wandered through the corridors of the past.


Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 3.42.19 PMElwin with his Royal Hudson project.

As I was getting lost in my thoughts, the lively presentations invited me to learn about the residential schools, Cirque Du Soleil, and the evolution of the Canadian stores. My editor also suggested to me to have a conversation with Isaac and the blacksmiths. Right away, Isaac asked me what I had already known about blacksmiths. He then invited me to do a simulation of metalworking with a clay on a cardboard anvil. When I asked Isaac why are blacksmiths important today while it is deemed as an obsolete profession, he explained that the blacksmiths have provided the pots and pans for families and the tools, like axes, for people to build a comfortable life, robust community. “If not for the blacksmiths, we won’t be here today.” His strong statement resonated with me as I recalled the people I have already met. On Alexander Bell, Anthony had said, “The phonograph changed communication forever.” He proudly displayed the miniature model of the cone-shaped phenograph and the Nokia flip phone. I looked down at my iPhone recording our conversation; I decided that he was right. I also remembered the secret railway that Harriet Tubman had used to assist slaves to escape from the United States to Canada before and during the American Civil War. Justin had expressed that the selfless deed has contributed to the spike of the black population that is now part of Canada’s diversity. Indeed, people from the past shaped our lives tremendously.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 3.42.30 PMA peek into a blacksmith’s home.

If our past can mold the socioeconomic landscape of today’s Canada, then our present, which will eventually become the distant past, should have a life-altering impact on the future community. What better way to foresee our future than to ask our young generation what they think of it? As I passed by a presentation on Laura Secord, Nyla told me that she was a “strong, independent woman that we all should be proud of.” Secord was a Canadian informant who sacrificed her life warning the home troops of the American attack in the War of 1812. However, even before that incident, Secord had been saving her family from the battles and defied the rigid role of women. The following generations of girls and grown women should follow her as role model. Not only is knowledge passed down from the previous generations, but also the integrity and the strength of the people that inspire us to teach the good qualities to our next generations.  But how do we pass the knowledge onward?


Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 3.42.40 PMNyla took pride in her project.

Our young students gathered today have different ideas on how to preserve history. “Oral history is the way to pass on knowledge,” said Abrielle. To satisfy her passion for cherry blossoms, Abrielle had investigated the Japanese-Canadian community by conducting interviews. She showed on her presentation her paper tree that symbolized the Japanese community taking root in Canada. The process was full of struggle and strength that eventually bloomed into success stories like beautiful flowers. Abrielle told me that they are flourishing because they take the meaning of gama — “withstanding the seemingly impossible with patient and dignity”—to heart. Some traditions of the past seem to persist. They can be advices on how to deal with current crisis, such as settling Syrian refugees in Canada’s diverse culture. Additionally, we can preserve life lessons by retelling inspiring stories to one another and our children about the history of persistence and overcoming adversaries when settling in an unfamiliar environment. 

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 3.46.39 PMThe Fair promoted the importance of disseminating history by offering a space for people to actively engage and discuss the historical events, but it was also a celebration of the trans-generational community. The community of all-ages gathered here today appreciated history by listening to the children’s stories and their interpretations. The celebration did not end there. I left the Fair satisfied and was ready to share my thought in my article. Some students had the opportunities to distribute the past wisdom at the provincial fairs. Together with the past community, the present is building the future, starting with the Vancouver Regional Heritage Fair.