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Walking tour brings old Steveston to life

By Don Fennell

Published 4:00 PDT, Wed August 14, 2019

Last Updated: 4:02 PDT, Wed August 14, 2019

It is a tumultuous time.

It is a tumultuous time.

As Canada marks its 50th year as a nation, the world is at war and by August the government will introduce conscription or compulsory enlistment. A month later the Income War Tax Act will receive royal assent, establishing a "temporary tax."

In 1917, Steveston residents are also dealing with social upheaval, prohibition and natural disasters--scenes brought to life by talented local drama students in Steveston Alive! Walking Tour Vignettes.

The engaging and informative five-part play, by local playwright Andrew Wade, takes residents and visitors alike on a unique journey through the streets of modern Steveston—but as if the clock was turned back in time.

The Grade 8 to 12 students Steveston-London Secondary, joined by returning cast members from Hugh McRoberts Secondary, provide realistic, true reflections of the hardships—including racism—early immigrants were forced to overcome, and how residents were forced to learn to live and work together in this diverse community.

One issue locals are dealing with is—and still are—is the potential, or at least fear, of flooding. In 1917, it has one young resident in hysterics and, armed with a suitcase, planning to leave for higher ground.

“Have you seen water level today? It's high,” says the character, Mika. “If we flood the Interurban won't be able to run at all, so I need t o be able to leave right away.

“That bridge on Five Road got carried away by ice last year," she continues. ”You think some tons of dirt pretending to be dikes are going to save us? You do realize Steveston and the rest of Richmond is an actual house built on sand. We're living on the river's mistake, dig a few feet and splash."

But amidst all the challenges these residents are facing is a positive young man known as Frank. Despite being down on his luck and unemployed, since there’s been no salmon to fish for three years following the 1914 Hell’s Gate landslide, he remains the eternal dreamer. And despite his position, he never tires trying to win the hand of Helen, a newly-employed clerk at the Northern Crown Bank.

While his fishing pals are more realistic about the current state of the industry, Frank is busy trying to convince them to join him on a “prosperous business opportunity.”

Linda Barnes, president of the Steveston Historical Society which is presenting the third season of Steveston Alive! Walking Tour Vignettes in collaboration with the Steveston Museum, says the play was painstakingly researched to be authentic to the time. Even the costumes, made possible by a first-year grant, accurately reflect the period.

“We chose 1917 because it was 100 years before our first performance in 2017 and we thought it was appropriate,” Barnes says.

She adds, it’s also remarkable to see how many issues like damming and dyking are still primary issues in Richmond today.

Rachel Meloche, executive director of the historical society, says it’s remarkable how dedicated the students are to helping ensure the show goes on. Even while in China for part of the summer, the stage manager was sending emails to her peers and Meloche.

There’s still time to catch Steveston Alive! Walking Tour Vignettes before the show wraps for the season. Tours will leave from the Steveston Museum twice daily on Saturday, Aug. 17, 24 and 31 at 1 and 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 and children under 12 (maximum two) free when accompanied by a paying adult. You can also book online through eventbrite.ca.

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