Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Comment: Painful history can help make us stronger

The Old Town display on the Royal B.C. Museum's third floor includes a cinema and garage. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a retired professor who lives in Victoria.

The Islander feature “50 Years of Old Town” shows how meticulous the research had been conducted and how artful and crafty the construction had been done to create the displays on the third floor.

It is not only a showpiece of history, but also a work of art.

I am a first-generation immigrant who came to Canada in 1972 from Hong Kong. I did not know too much about the colonial history or the injustice done to the First Nations people then, and probably still do not know enough now.

I remember being mesmerized by the displays of the Royal B.C. Museum when I first visited Victoria as a tourist. In the 1990s, I was a visiting professor at the University of Victoria and took my infant son almost weekly to the museum and the Crystal Garden during the cold and rainy days of winter and the grey and gloomy days of early spring.

Both the museum and the garden kept my son entertained and myself contented. It is therefore sad for me to see that the garden is no longer a garden and the museum would most likely lose a piece of its charm.

I honestly cannot understand how the museum can be ­decolonized without a part of local history being erased.

Isn’t colonialism a significant part of our history? How can an old town be replicated without showing what life was like for the settlers during the colonial days?

What is wrong with the mining, farming, forestry and fishery displays? Are they not part of our industrial development?

I cannot see anything wrong with these displays, perhaps due to my ignorance, but I can understand that some people see evil in everything, intended or not, that reminds them of a painful past.

As a person of Chinese descent, I see the Opium War, the Nanjing Massacre and the Tiananmen Massacre as a painful part of my ancestral and somewhat recent memories. However, I do not want to see any references to these unjust events being erased.

In my days of studying at UBC in the 1970s, I saw washroom graffiti saying “Chings go home” and was yelled at with racial slurs while waiting at bus stops. But, I would not hold my discontent against all Caucasian people.

I have numerous Caucasian colleagues and friends and they are mostly decent human beings, and I think likewise of the colonial settlers. I believe the majority of all people are fine, although some can be despicable.

During the Cultural Revolution in China, lots of historical artifacts were destroyed or smeared because they represented the wrong side of history, and this is now recognized as senseless destruction.

I hope we are not going down the same path.

History is neutral. It is there for us to learn, understand and be wiser. Painful history, in particular, should make us strong. If it does not, then there is something wrong with our attitude or our minds.

Let’s open the window and look outside. Everything that we see are the consequences of a long chain of events coming down from our colonial history.

Modern buildings, automobiles, streetlights and paved roads would not be there if not for our colonial past. Should we destroy them all? If not, why decolonize the museum?