Walk through Port Coquitlam history
You don't need to be a Port Coquitlam resident to appreciate the museum the Port Coquitlam Heritage and Cultural Society opened March 7, the 100th anniversary of the city's incorporation.
Heritage at Leigh Square, as it's known, tells a story common to all cities in the region and anyone with some interest in learning how Metro Vancouver grew from rural farmland to a densely-populated mega city will find something to enjoy here.
Stepping into the museum, you are transported to the past through a delightfully cohesive selection of "stories" that trace the city's history. Using video, graphics, artifacts and storyboards, Heritage at Leigh Square traces the region's history from the the First Nations indigenous people to Terry Fox.
And many of the stories it shares are common to all cities in the Lower Mainland — from First Nations history to the influx of immigrants seeking employment in the fishing and forestry industries, from the carving up of land into farmsteads through to incorporation and the building of railroads, highways, bridges, parks and schools.
How many of us traveling Lower Mainland streets and highways take the time to consider who went before? Probably not very many but there is much to learn by studying the past and Heritage at Leigh Square is a great teacher.
You'll learn, for example, how the city survived through fires, floods, two world wars and a depression, cataclysmic events that shook the entire region.
Housed at the Outlet at Leigh Square, itself almost an historic artifact (it was a former post office) and paid for with a combination of municipal and federal grants and fundraising by PoCo Heritage, the museum is not much larger than a large living room. But the small space packs a lot of punch.
There are displays of household implements, clothing, sporting goods and fishing gear beautifully presented in glass cases to show how people lived in years gone by. A well-crafted case built by STP Woodworking shows some fine examples of First Nations artwork. A slim cedar canoe banked against some stones and river grass looks as if it was just dropped there by an ancient fisher.
VIDEO TELLS STORIES
Visitors to the museum should also take a few minutes to watch a video on Port Coquitlam's history made by Shawn Lam Video Productions with the support of PoCo Heritage volunteer Brian Ness (who was also integral to the production of The Tri-City News' Port Coquitlam 100 section on March 6). It's an informative, sometimes funny and even emotional recounting of PoCo's early days up to Terry Fox's Marathon of Hope, featuring photos of and interviews with local people who remember the old days, including many who new the hometown hero personally.
Another remarkable artifact unveiled on the museum's opening is a mural painted by noted Canadian artist Peter Carter Page that used to grace the walls of the Wild Duck Inn, a former watering hole and duck-hunting lodge (and stripper bar).
It was rescued by PoCo Heritage member Karon Fuson after an ultimately unsuccessful fight to save the building. The inn was knocked down to make way for the Golden Ears Bridge road system, ending an era of highway roadhouses, but Fuson managed to wrestle the large mural into her basement, where it stayed for five years.
With the kind of perseverance typical of PoCo people, Fuson and PoCo Heritage, including project manager Steve Smith, Pippa VanVelzen, Julie Schmidt and Brian Hubbard [and many others] never gave up on the vision of restoring the mural and building a museum to house it.
There will be more work ahead. Some finishing touches are required, the museum will have to be maintained and exhibits kept up to date. All these things the heritage society is committed to providing, in addition to ensuring a volunteer is on site most days during opening hours.
They will need support and extra hands in this endeavour — and it's worth it so the city's stories can continue to be told.
• Heritage at Leigh Square is located at 2100-2253 Leigh Sq., Port Coquitlam (doors open on McAllister Avenue), next to city hall. For more information or to volunteer, call 604-927-8403 or email email@example.com.