Teresa Wat, Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism, was in Ashcroft for the unveiling of the altar at the Chinese cemetery on March 17. Speaking with The Journal before the event, she reflected on her previous trip here, to unveil the glass mosaics at the Chinese cemetery in June 2016, and what she found.
“It really impressed me. I look at Ashcroft as a model for Metro Vancouver. Whenever there is a plaque unveiling or ceremony there, it’s mostly the Chinese community that attends; we have a hard time attracting the white community. Because there are hardly any Chinese people here, it’s very impressive with this community, and the Lions and Rotary, recognizing the contributions of Chinese Canadians to the community.
“[People in Ashcroft] remember the history, and how much suffering the Chinese went through. People are living in a global village now. I don’t think we can totally eliminate racism, but we need to get to know each other, and our role as politicians is to reach out to all the ethnic communities.”
Turning to the unveiling, Wat explained that the 15 Legacy Projects—of which the Ashcroft altar, or joss temple, is one—came after extensive public consultation around the province starting in November 2013.
“We heard loud and clear that not only must the premier make an apology, but that there must be an educational component, so that history would not repeat itself, and an acknowledgement of the Chinese contributions to the economy.
“We asked for a list of significant sites, and had 77 submissions, of which 21 were designated as heritage sites. Then we had to pick some sites for plaques for the Legacy Projects.” Ashcroft was the third site to have a Legacy Project unveiled, after Kelowna and Cumberland; Kamloops and Barkerville had unveilings the weekend after Ashcroft’s event.
“We wanted to involve the community, and involve the Lions and Rotary, who have cleaned the site. I must give my compliments to Ashcroft; it happened so fast.” Noting that a busload of people from Vancouver’s Chinese community would be attending the ceremony, Wat said “I want them to understand the Chinese community in Ashcroft. And I’m happy that the B.C. government recognized the importance of the site.”
Jackie Tegart, the MLA for Fraser-Nicola, said that when the Rotary and Lions clubs approached her last year about attending the unveiling of the mosaics, she immediately said “Teresa Wat should be here. I knew the work she was doing on reconciliation, and she started to see the importance of the site, and started the process of working with the Rotary and Lions clubs to move to the next stage.
“It’s a small community that understands the importance of its Chinese community. It shows our respect, and I’m thrilled with the support of the government and Teresa Wat to honour the people who did so much for our community with this joss temple.”
“In less than a year there’s another structure in the cemetery,” said Wat. “Canada was built along the railway, and the Chinese were very integrated into the community.
“The Village of Ashcroft should be a model for British Columbia.”