This Community Story begins in 1858
This is an online Community Story designed and developed by BC Black History Awareness Society (BCBHAS) to share the stories of the history of Black people in this province, and their influence on the historical development and diversity of B.C., especially Vancouver Island. It is hosted by Digital Museums Canada (DMC) and officially opened in December 2020.
It is a collection of short stories about women, men, their families and partnerships that bring to light the events, experiences, and circumstances of everyday life, such as winning prizes at the Saanich Fair in 1875, Women in Victoria organizing to raise money to support Black troops in the American Civil War, and the discrimination these immigrants faced while still achieving many “firsts” in business, politics, and education.
An important…and unique exhibit for Canada
The story and history of these Black settlers is an important part of understanding Canada’s multicultural society. Canadians are generally taught that Black people came to Canada to seek relief from the oppression of slavery or, more recently, from repressive socio-economic conditions in their home countries.
These stories help round out the picture of Canada by showing how this group of about 800 invited settlers contributed to the richness of the developing society in the west and were an integral part of its early formation. This results in better outcomes for understanding the advantages of multiculturalism today. The impact of connecting with Black youth in the society will also have far-reaching outcomes, as schools are increasingly relying on digital mediums to enhance their curriculum. The Federal Government has listed this Community Story as an educational resource on their information page about Canadian Black History Organizations.
About BC Black History Awareness Society
Based in Victoria, we’ve been around since 1994, creating an awareness of the history of peoples of African descent in this province and celebrating their historical and contemporary contributions and achievements. Since March 2019 the Society is a charity registered with Canada Revenue Agency.
Digital Museums Canada
Digital Museums Canada (DMC) is an investment program that helps build digital capacity in Canadian museums and heritage organizations, and gives Canadians unique access to diverse stories and experiences. DMC is managed by the Canadian Museum of History, with the financial support of the Government of Canada.
With more than 500 exhibits, Digital Museums Canada is the largest source of online content and experiences shared by large and small Canadian museums and heritage organizations; and their exhibits are free!
Working remotely with a national partner
Before we decided to submit a proposal, we were aware that the project would take a minimum of sixteen months. We submitted our proposal in February 2019; which had to include letters of support from all the sponsors. The contract with Canadian Museum of History was signed in June 2019. The project proceeded in four phases; Preliminary Submission, English language Submission, French language Submission, Final Submission for both languages. All the videos were shot during the English language submission phase, summer/fall 2019. This was necessary in order to have them ready for translation. A quality assurance review was conducted by DMC after each phase. When the COVID-19 pandemic was intense in 2020, fortunately, we were at the stage where all the work could be done online.
The exhibit officially opened on December 17, 2020. In the first six months there have been more than 12,000 visits and 10 percent of those visits have been to the French language stories.
“I enjoyed the lively writing in the exhibit and the juxtaposition of rich historical material with engaging and informative contemporary videos.’’
—Megan Richardson, Director of DMC, in her congratulatory letter to BC Black History Awareness Society
The Project title
“Industry and Character” is how these pioneers were characterized by Mifflin Gibbs in his autobiography published in 1902. Gibbs was the de facto leader of these immigrants. “Influencing the Vision of Canada” refers to two plaques commissioned by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The first plaque was unveiled at the Shady Creek Church in South Saanich in February 2000. This plaque commemorates the arrival of these pioneers as an event of national historic significance. The second plaque honouring Mifflin Gibbs, who served as a Victoria City Councillor from 1866-1869, as a person of national historic significance was unveiled in May 2019 and is at Irving Park in James Bay.
What visitors to the DMC exhibit can expect
This community story is a permanent site with no end date currently. It can be accessed free of charge through the DMC’s website link below. It features twenty stories, with 86 historical images and archival documents and materials, and some stories have accompanying videos. The nine videos were all shot in the Greater Victoria area specifically for this exhibit. The locations are Central Saanich United Church, formerly Shady Creek Church, Irving Park in James Bay, Bastion Square, Douglas Street, Yates Street, Rudlin Street, Government Street, sxʷeŋxʷəŋ təŋəxʷ James Bay Branch of GVPL, and FotoVie “Studio”. The speakers are members of our Society or people with a direct connection to the story.
It’s an informal learning environment. You have control over the experience; you can spend your time reading the stories the way you want to, when you want to.
You can create your own unique experiences, discover what’s meaningful for you and acquire information that interests you.
A bilingual platform, in English and French
Yes! Everything! The stories and gallery items with descriptions, alternative (alt) text; and the videos with descriptive transcripts and closed captions. This is important for this Canadian story; from the last official census for Canada we know that 28 percent of Black Canadian families speak French at home.
The Project team
The design and development was led by BCBHAS. DMC provided advice, guidance and content management systems expertise. All the work was done through collaboration with multiple organizations and creative storytellers from a variety of backgrounds.
The sponsors are City of Victoria, Greater Victoria Public Library, Here Magazine, ITI International Technologies Inc., Old Cemeteries Society (OCS) and Dr. John Lutz, History Department, University of Victoria.
The team and contributors included advisors, archivist, audio-recordist, authors, content managers, descendants, editors, graphic designers, historians, a legal advisor, an accountant, narrators, photographers, a project manager, researchers, translators, video editors, videographers, web development experts, and writers.
The thirty-nine people and nineteen organizations are listed on the Thank you page in the exhibit. We are deeply grateful for the sponsors who had faith that we could do this and to the team and contributors for their unwavering dedication, expertise, talent, and resourcefulness.
Comments from visitors
“This is terrific! So good for people to know that these Pioneers have a place in B.C.’s early history.” Linda
“This is a superb presentation. It is well researched, extremely well crafted and deals with a topic of vital importance that needs to be understood.” John
“I love the video of the kids in Bastion Square, and appreciate the range of images and perspectives throughout this digital exhibition. It is all fantastic.” Chris