The new altar at the north end of the Ashcroft Chinese cemetery is under wraps until its official unveiling on March 17.

The new altar at the north end of the Ashcroft Chinese cemetery is under wraps until its official unveiling on March 17.

Historic Ashcroft Chinese cemetery receives provincial recognition with plaque

The site is being included as one of close to two dozen around the province receiving legacy funding.

The historic Ashcroft Chinese cemetery is being included in a list of sites around the province receiving funding for a legacy project from the provincial government and its Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council (LIAC). And at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, March 17 the project—an altar housed in a Chinese temple, with an apology plaque and glass decorations—will be unveiled in a formal ceremony.

LIAC provides government with advice to ensure successful implementation of the legacy projects resulting from the “Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report” (2014). The report led to a formal apology in the legislature in Victoria in May 2014, when Premier Christy Clark, on behalf of all members of the legislative assembly, apologized to Chinese-Canadians for the historical wrongs of past B.C. provincial governments, including discrimination and anti-Chinese policies.

LIAC then began looking at sites around the province where legacy projects celebrating B.C.’s Chinese heritage could be situated. Possible locations cited in the 2014 report were Greater Vancouver, Barkerville, Nanaimo, and Kamloops; but it appears that the efforts of many local volunteers to restore and enhance Ashcroft’s Chinese cemetery, stretching back for 15 years, put that site on the radar.

At least one member of LIAC thought that the cemetery was still derelict, and was overwhelmed when, during a visit to Ashcroft in June last year, she found that the site had been restored, and augmented with two new glass mosaic artworks. And at the unveiling of the mosaics on June 5, 2016 the Hon. Teresa Wat, MLA for Richmond Centre and the Minister of International Trade and the Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism, noted that the work at the cemetery, as well as the mosaics, was done by non-Chinese residents, which showed “a true multicultural spirit. It’s what makes B.C. more inclusive and harmonious.”

Paché Denis, a member of the Ashcroft/Cache Creek Rotary Club—which has been working with the Ashcroft and District Lions Club to restore and maintain the cemetery for many years—says that within a week of May’s visit, a call was received indicating that Ashcroft was one of the sites where a legacy project was wanted.

“Wat put it on the burner,” says Denis. “We got a call saying they wanted to go ahead with something [in Ashcroft], so put in a proposal. I attribute the speed of it, and the fact we got anything at all from the government, to the mosaics. The feeling was ‘This has to be a site.’”

Since June 2016, the graves in the cemetery have been framed in wood and filled with red bentonite, an absorbent clay. Since many of the headstones have disappeared, or are badly damaged, 50 new commemorative headstones are being created and installed where needed. Some of the headstones are sand-carved granite; others are glass mosaics on granite; and still more are sand-carved glass glued onto granite.

The altar—designed by Daniel Collett, and built by Collett, Denis, and Bruce Walker—is at the north end of the site. Denis calls it a “joss temple”, and says people will find it “quite impressive” when it is unveiled on March 17.

“Restoring an incense altar [at the cemetery] was always part of the plan,” says Denis; but the Rotary and Lions clubs did not expect to get funding to the tune of $8,000 from the provincial government for it. “When we got the call [from Victoria] we weren’t expecting anything.”

The ceremony will be attended by guests and dignataries, including Minister Wat, from as far afield as Victoria, the Lower Mainland, and Kamloops. Area residents are also welcome to attend the unveiling.