Photos by Don Fennell
Multiculturalism may be a modern buzzword, but it has been a reality since the arrival of the first settlers.
During the community’s formative years over a century ago, folks from throughout the world contributed unique customs and traditions that helped to shape their new home.
With immigration, many cultures joined the Musqueam already here since before written history. The blending of nations offered many challenges and opportunities, of which we catch a glimpse thanks to the student actors.
“I didn’t know that back in the day it was (already) really diverse,” says Vince Bernales, a Grade 12 student at Hugh McRoberts secondary who takes on the role of Ollie in this summer’s Steveston Alive! Walking Tour Vignettes. “There were a lot of different communities, especially from around the world that helped build Steveston like the Chinese people helping to build dikes, the Europeans flood gates, and the Japanese families fixing boats.”
Portraying Oillie’s sibling Mika, Caroline Tang says it’s nice to see more of Steveston than meets the eye.
“There’s so much history that’s interesting, and the vignettes bring out the interesting quirks you probably wouldn’t notice just walking around,” she says.
Both relate well to their characters. As the older of the siblings, Ollie is always looking out for Mika. That’s also true, Bernales says, with his real-life younger brother. And in Mika, Tang sees a spitfire who wants to get things done andé “check for herself.”
“I thought women then were a little more soft spoken and shy,” Tang says.
This is the second year the young actors have been a part of the walking tour vignettes. Their drama teacher encouraged them to try out. But while Bernales had considerable on-stage experience since Grade 8, Tang worked mostly back stage before emerging from the shadows. Now, although both have chosen very different career paths—Bernales will be studying bio-medical engineering and Tang biology with the intent of becoming a teacher—they can’t imagine their lives going forward won’t also include acting.
“Performing arts is something you have to see to believe. It’s so engaging,” says Tang. “We have so much opportunity for creativity that it’s going to be different every time.”
Written (alongside a heritage advisor) and directed by award-winning playwright and McRoberts alumni Andrew Wade. He plays the conductor. The historical vignettes use actual locations as settings for each brief play, buildings that were here in 1917.
There are five vignettes total that involve eight characters imagined from life 100 years ago, explains Steveston Historical Society executive director Sarah Glen. “Stories address issues such as the decline in salmon population after the Hell’s Gate landslide, women winning the right to vote, the effect of the First World War on the community; alongside more personal tales of romance, friendship and perseverance.”
The Steveston Alive! WalkingTour Vignettes are performed Saturdays at 1 and 3 p.m. in June and July, and are about an hour long and just over a kilometre in length. Tickets are $10, and free to kids 12 and under. The program is made possible through the support of GF Financial and the City of Richmond. For information visit richmond.ca/stevestonmuseum.