New mosaics pay tribute to area’s Chinese history

Two mosaic glass pieces at the Ashcroft Chinese cemetery are the work of a local artist and volunteers, and were unveiled Sunday,

A ceremony on June 5 honouring the memory and legacy of early Chinese settlers in Ashcroft saw the unveiling of two new pieces of mosaic glass artwork at the historic Chinese cemetery.

Under blazing blue skies, some 80 people gathered to get a first look at the dragon mosaic, housed in a wooden country-temple style frame, and the koi mosaic, which forms the back of a wooden bench placed under a tree overlooking the site.

Both pieces were designed by local artist Marina Papais, who has been working in glass and mosaic for 35 years. The pieces are the latest in a series she has been working on with the assistance of local volunteers, and which can be seen around Ashcroft.

The Ashcroft/Cache Creek Rotary Club and the Ashcroft and District Lions Club have been partnering for more than 10 years to keep the cemetery, which was formerly derelict, clean and tidy. Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart, who was at the ceremony and who grew up in Ashcroft, remembers what the site used to be like.

“When I was a kid I heard people talk about the Chinese cemetery, but no one knew where it was; it wasn’t delineated, and was overgrown.” She had praise for the hard work of the volunteers who have restored it.

Mo Girard of the Lions Club said of the project that “Many hands make light work; and when we started, the work wasn’t light.” The mosaic project is phase two of an ongoing plan; phases three and four will see the graves at the site covered in red rock and framed with wood, with new headstones on those without them.

Also present at the unveiling was the Hon. Teresa Wat, MLA for Richmond Centre and the Minister of International Trade and the Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism. She 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.” She added that the Ashcroft Chinese cemetery is one of 77 Chinese sites recently recognized as historically significant by the B.C. government.

One of Papais’s intentions with the mosaics was to honour the pivotal role of the Chinese in Ashcroft. The Rotary and Lions Clubs originally intended to have only one piece at the site, but were approached by the Tsui family of Vancouver about contributing to the project. Members of the family have been coming to the Ashcroft Chinese cemetery annually for more than 30 years to honour their grandfather, who is buried there.

The clubs already had enough money to complete the dragon mosaic, so the Tsui family donated the funds that enabled the bench to be built. It is now a peaceful place to sit and rest and look over the cemetery, and reflect on the many contributions that Chinese pioneers and settlers made to Ashcroft, the region, and the province.

“Chinese settlers were an integral part of the history of the gold rush and the Fraser Canyon,” says Tegart. “This cemetery is a place for people to stop and reflect on those who made this place what it is today.”

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