A Chinese altar, or joss temple, adorned by a plaque from the B.C. government and beautiful glass carvings and a mosaic, was unveiled at the Chinese cemetery in Ashcroft on March 17.
Close to 150 dignitaries, guests, and residents attended the moving and solemn ceremony. Cloudy skies and cool temperatures early in the morning had threatened bad weather, but by the time the event started at 12:45 p.m. the sun was breaking through the clouds in fitting tribute to the occasion.
The Ashcroft altar was the third in up to 15 markers—interpretive signs, plaques, and monuments—that will be established in communities throughout the province in the coming months. The altar—which was created in consultation with the Ashcroft/Cache Creek Rotary Club and the Ashcroft and District Lions Club—is the result of the B.C. government’s commitment to create a Chinese legacy for all British Columbians, and stems from an apology to B.C.’s legislative assembly in May 2014.
A busload of visitors from Vancouver’s Chinese community—including 10 veterans—were in attendance, as well as a large contingent from the Kamloops Chinese community. Teresa Wat, the Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism, was also present, along with Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart, Ashcroft mayor Jack Jeyes, and representatives from the Rotary and Lions clubs. Members of the two clubs have been working together since 2002 to restore and refurbish the cemetery.
The ceremony started with a cultural offering of incense before the (covered) altar; then Tegart, the event’s emcee, stepped forward and—after pausing to allow a CP train to pass by—said that she remembered when the cemetery was derelict. “I’m proud to be part of a community that honours and respects our Chinese heritage.
“The Ashcroft Rotary and Lions clubs took this project on, and now people can feel pride in the cemetery, which honours those interred here.”
A close-up view of the altar, with etchings by Marina Papais. Photo by Barbara Roden.
Wat then stepped forward and thanked Tegart, as well as the Lions and Rotary clubs, for being so passionate about the project.
“When that train went past, I thought back more than 100 years to when the Chinese workers came here to build that railway; because the Chinese wanted to contribute to Canada. They came here to work, and many of them died.”
She continued, “I was so privileged, in June 2016, to unveil the stunning dragon mosaic and the bench here, and I’m once again privileged to stand in this place of peace and tranquility.” She indicated a man in the Vancouver contingent and said “Charles Chow’s grandfather came to Ashcroft as a farmer, and died here. He was separated from his family in China, and we are here to honour the memory of those who sacrificed so much to come and work here.
“This is a special place, and it is a fitting spot to honour the Chinese community. It stands as a place of contemplation and remembrance. Thank you to Rotary and Lions for their tireless work and devotion to make this possible. This beautiful monument will serve as a fitting tribute to the Chinese community.”
The altar was then unveiled. An elegant cement structure with curved ends, it is housed in a wooden temple. The front bears a plaque from the Government of British Columbia, flanked by two glass etchings. A single glass etching is on each end of the altar, and the reverse has two more etchings, with a glass mosaic in the centre.
Karma Kubbernus, president of the Ashcroft/Cache Creek Rotary Club, welcomed everyone. “On behalf of Rotary I’d like to say thank you to the community and all who helped make this such a glorious commemorative site.”
She then called up Marina Papais and Daniel Collett, to announce that they were both being made Paul Harris Fellows, an honour bestowed on those who have made a significant contribution to Rotary. Papais is the artist behind the mosaics that were unveiled at the cemetery in June 2016, the etchings and mosaics on the altar, and many of the headstones which are being placed on graves at the site, while Collett designed the bench, as well as the temples for the dragon mosaic and the altar.
(from left) Daniel Collett, Jackie Tegart, Karma Kubbernus, Marina Papais, and Teresa Wat. Photo by Barbara Roden.
Vivian Edwards, speaking on behalf of the Ashcroft and District Lions Club, said that “Over the last 15 years, our clubs have worked in partnership to clean up and restore the Chinese cemetery. When we started it was completely overgrown, and now we’re left with a recognizable cemetery.
“It is now a place of honour for our Chinese community. Thank you to Teresa Wat and the B.C. government for recognizing this, and allowing us to be part of the historic Legacy Project.
“This beautiful cemetery is a tribute to those who lived and died here, and to the impact they had on our community.”
Ashcroft mayor Jack Jeyes said that “It is indeed an honour to be here today. Thank you to the Rotary and Lions clubs for having the vision to clean the cemetery up, in respect for what those here deserved. And thank you to the government for the recognition of a significant part of our history. It will be a lasting legacy for years to come.”
Charles Chow—who, with his three brothers, has made the trip to Ashcroft every year for four decades—said that “Our grandfather is buried here. We make the trip here every year to show respect. It is an honour to witness the impressive and historic event here today.
“On behalf of my brothers and family, thank you. When we made the first trip to this cemetery 40 years ago, it was a mess. But it has been cleaned up, with beautiful mosaics [Chow and his brothers provided the funds for the construction of the bench with mosaic decoration at the site], so thank you to the Rotary and Lions and the local community, who made this possible.
“And thank you to the legislature of B.C. Our grandfather, and the people buried in this cemetery, gave their lives to our communities and our countries. As a descendant I hope—and do believe—this wonderful spirit will be passed on, generation after generation.”
Tegart concluded the event by saying “Thank you. This means so much to the community of Ashcroft and all who are here.
“This monument shows the value and recognition that Ashcroft has placed on our Chinese community. It is wonderful to have our visitors here today, and see your honouring of our Chinese heritage.”
The text on the plaque reads: “In British Columbia, on May 15, 2014 Premier Christy Clark delivered the legislative assembly’s apology signifying the deepest regret for the hardship and suffering our past provincial governments imposed on Chinese in British Columbia. The apology recognized the perseverance, grace, and dignity Chinese in British Columbia demonstrated throughout our history while enduring discriminatory historical laws.”