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Arts & Culture

Celebrate BC Heritage Week in Abbotsford

February 17, 2021

February 15th to 21st, 2021 marks BC Heritage Week. Abbotsford is home to a rich and diverse heritage, with traditions and history being passed down amongst generations and cultures. Explore the history of how Abbotsford was built, the stories of those who built it and how that history shapes our future. Visit one of our many museums and historic sites, or read and learn virtually about what makes Abbotsford a thriving community proud of its heritage.

The Reach Gallery Museum

When it opened in 2008, The Reach wanted to create a space to preserve and share the stories of Abbotsford’s rich and diverse cultural heritage and showcase the best in arts from local artists as well as artists across Canada and throughout the world. Voices of the Valley, its permanent history exhibition, was opened in February, 2016 in collaboration with the MSA Museum Society. The exhibition invites everyone, from avid history buffs to school children, to explore the rich collections of historical objects, photographs, and archival materials that tell the story of the community through the eyes of individuals who have shaped it.

The exhibition is shaped around the themes and events that have impacted our community since the time of settler colonization and uses graphic cues to demonstrate how the stories of our community are linked and continue to affect us today. It also presents multiple viewpoints. For example, a section of the exhibition dedicated to the drainage of Sumas Lake examines how settlers benefited from this agricultural development while it had devastating repercussions for the Stό:lō people.

To learn more about the history of Sumas Lake, you can check out one of The Reach’s current exhibitions: Semá:th Xo:tsa: Great Gramma’s Lake, running until August 5th, 2021. The exhibition is a life-sized rendering of a new children’s book that was published by The Reach in fall of 2020. The collaborative book and exhibition recall a time when the lake was thriving, using memory and story to allow the lake to live on today. The project is illustrated by Carrielynn Victor and co-authored by Chris Silver, Carrielynn Victor, Kris Foulds, and Laura Schneider. If you can’t make it to The Reach in person, you can read the book online here or participate in this fun interactive activity that teaches the history of the lake through collage making.

Trethewey House Heritage Site

If you live in Abbotsford chances are you’ve driven past Trethewey House. Or maybe you’ve heard the story of J.O. Trethewey, a lumber baron who was responsible for the leadership of the company during its boom years in the 1920s. Trethewey House Heritage Site is operated by the Heritage Abbotsford Society, a charity organization dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of our community. This is achieved through educational programming, tours of Trethewey House and the Upper Sumas BCER station, exhibits and displays, including the one-room schoolhouse experience and the Heritage Gallery exhibits, along with walking tours, heritage-themed events and workshops, interpretive educational and outreach programs, and summer camps for youth and children.

Trethewey House is open Monday-Friday from 1pm-4pm for drop in tours by donation, although it is recommended to call ahead as COVID-19 precautions limit the amount of people able to be on the site at one time. If you’d prefer to learn about the Trethewey House Heritage Site and history of Mill Lake Park at your own pace, you can download their award-winning app, Agents of Discovery! Agents of Discovery is an educational platform game which allows those of all ages to get out, move and uncover information about the area’s history through a series of challenges, games and questions that can be solved on their own devices. Visitors must be present on the Heritage Site to complete Agents of Discovery missions as the app uses GPS coordinates. This fun and innovative way of engaging with Abbotsford’s history can be downloaded on the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store!

Gur Sikh Temple & Sikh Heritage Museum

A National Historic Site, the Gur Sikh Temple has been a Sikh place of worship since 1912. Built by a community of Sikh settlers, it is known as the oldest existing Sikh Temple in North America. The restored building is managed by the not-for-profit society, The Khalsa Diwan Society, who run the daily management. On the ground floor is the Sikh Heritage Museum, open to the public. The second floor remains as a prayer room. In 2011, a ten year partnership was created by the South Asian Studies Institute (SASI) at UFV, the Reach Gallery Museum and the Khalsa Diwan Society, Abbotsford to run the museum. SASI curates the exhibits and assists with community tours and other engagements at the Sikh Heritage Museum, with The Reach’s support.

The current exhibition: Haq and History, is running until March 31st, 2021. The exhibit offers visitors the chance to reflect upon stories from and about South Asian Canadian immigrants, including details about work, home life and keeping cultural traditions alive in BC. Through panel texts, visitors to Haq and History will learn about Punjabi immigrants working in sawmills in the 1920’s; hear about travel from Punjab to Canada in the 1950’s; learn some of the challenges of sourcing Indian food in Vancouver in the 1960’s; and learn about memories of life in the now-abandoned town of Paldi in the 1940’s. Haq and History is the latest collaboration of the Royal BC Museum and the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Mennonite Heritage Museum

Established in 2016, The Mennonite Heritage Museum is owned and operated by the Mennonite Museum Society. The museum’s permanent exhibit hall illustrates the story of the Mennonites spanning 500 years, beginning with the Anabaptists of the 16th century. Follow the story of the Mennonite journey from Zurich in Switzerland to the Netherlands, across northern Europe to Poland/Prussia, then Russia, and finally, to Canada. Seasonal exhibits throughout the year highlight various aspects of Mennonite history and faith, both in the Fraser Valley and beyond. There is a particular focus on how Mennonites have interacted with agriculture over the centuries, from their agrarian days in Prussia and Russia, to the establishment of productive farms in the Fraser Valley.

Due to COVID-19 the Museum is closed to visitors until further notice, but you can support them through their coffee shop, which offers baked goods to go, or visit their YouTube channel to watch videos and learn more about the history of the Mennonite people in Abbotsford.