“If you move from one place to another, you can always go back. In this case, everything was obliterated.” – Ron Gawiuk
Revelstoke Museum and Archives created the exhibition “Stories Beneath the Surface” in 2018 to bring awareness to a fading story of the Columbia Valley – the displacement of approximately 2000 people to make way for the reservoir of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam that opened at Castlegar in 1969. Museum curator Cathy English became aware that many of the local schoolchildren, and many new residents, knew about “the flats” south of Revelstoke, but did not know the history of land use in the region. The dam was far away – close to 230 kilometres south – and built so long ago. How could it be relevant to us now?
Stories Beneath the Surface tells the stories of the communities that existed in the valley south of Revelstoke: the Ukrainian settlement of Mount Cartier; Twelve Mile, where a ferry crossed the river; the farming community of Sidmouth; and the once-thriving Arrowhead, a transportation and forestry hub. The exhibition gives a snapshot of the lives of the settlers in the region. The narrative then shifts to displacement, showing photographs of a church in flames, buildings being moved, clearing contracts of houses and barns to be burned. Three video interviews of former residents of the valley share common themes: sadness, powerlessness, and unfairness. Negotiation at the time was non-existent. Residents were told that they needed to leave, and told what they would be paid for their properties.
The exhibition has been widely viewed by local residents and visitors alike, and eight school classes from Grades 1 to 5 visited and learned the stories. It is reassuring to know that a whole new generation of residents will grow up here knowing the stories of the land.
There are more stories to be gathered and told. The museum will continue to collect stories, photographs, and artifacts. A film project is currently underway. The museum is collaborating with award-winning photographer and filmmaker Agathe Bernard to create Washed Away, a short film telling the stories of the connection that people had to the Columbia River and the land that it flowed through. Washed Away will also tell the stories of displacement: the displacement of the Sinixt people who once lived and thrived in the valley; the displacement of the salmon fishery; the displacement of the settlers.
Revelstoke Museum and Archives thanks the Community Initiatives Program of Columbia Basin Trust for funding this project. Additional funding is needed to complete the film project and bring this story to a wider audience.