Nowadays, many Canadians think of Richmond as one of the most diverse cities in the region. And although it’s true that there’s a large number of residents whose mother tongue is Mandarin or English, there are actually 77 nonofficial languages spoken in the city, according to the 2011 census.
But what many don’t realize is that Richmond has been diverse through much of its postcolonial history, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading up to the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.
“There was a huge population of Japanese fishermen that immigrated here to be part of the B.C. fishery,” Richmond’s director of corporate communications and marketing, Ted Townsend, told the Georgia Straight by phone. “There was a lot of the Chinese immigrants that were working in the canneries but also a big First Nations presence in the fishery as well. So that culture of diversity actually goes back to the late 19th century, and that has continued, of course, to this day in terms of Richmond.”
According to Townsend, there used to be 14 canneries along the Steveston waterfront, which has long been the heart of Richmond’s fishing industry. “A lot of the buildings have been restored and have interactive exhibits in them now that tell different parts of that history,” he said.
This weekend, landlubbers and seafarers from across the region are being invited to Steveston for the family-friendly and entirely free Richmond Maritime Festival, which takes place at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site.
The 3.2-hectare property was once home to one of the West Coast’s oldest shipyards before it became used as a TV set for the A & E series Bates Motel.
Several historic boats will be docked along a 190-metre pier, including a 35-metre schooner, Merrie Ellen, which was built in 1922. Another 95-year-old vessel, the Steveston-based SS Master, will also be there, along with many others that festivalgoers can board on-site.
The festival will also have musicians performing on three stages, including Good for Grapes, Beauty Shop Dolls, Daphne Roubini and Black Gardenia, Bhangra Royal Academy, Lonesome Town Painters, the Vancouver Chinese Choir, and the Eagle Song Dancers.
For the kids, there will be a puppet theatre with maritime characters such as Rikki the Rat and Lulu the Mermaid. In addition to interactive children’s entertainment, there are also opportunities for kids to engage in hands-on activities such as building a toy vessel. “They’ve got all the tools and the materials they need to pound together a small wooden boat that will float,” Townsend said.
It’s appropriate, considering that Steveston was once known worldwide as a centre for maritime innovation and craftsmanship. Townsend pointed out that wooden wheels and boat engines were made there—and this history will be told at the festival. There will also be an exhibit in the Seine Net Loft showing how commercial fishing gear evolved over more than a century.
But Townsend said this festival is not only dwelling on the past—it’s also addressing contemporary challenges.
“There’s an interesting new exhibit called Our Coastal Connection, which talks about a lot of the grassroots community efforts that are taking place to try and address the issue of wastes that are going into our oceans—particularly plastic waste, which is, of course, a huge international issue,” he said.
It will educate festivalgoers about how a wide range of products, including swimsuits and skateboards, are being made out of recycled plastic materials reclaimed from the seas.
The Richmond Maritime Festival takes place on Saturday and Sunday (August 12 and 13) at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site in Steveston.