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This new event series dives into West Van's colourful history

Local Voices will return to the West Vancouver library this month

The West Vancouver Historical Society is offering locals a journey through West Vancouver’s past with the much welcomed return of its Local Voices program, a series that sets history in motion.

Created in partnership with the West Vancouver Memorial Library, the series comprises four talks that delve into the history of the local area, touching on everything from the environment to the notable names that have called the region home.

“With Local Voices, the first part is a presentation by a community member about an aspect of West Vancouver, and then the rest of the evening is devoted to conversation among the audience about their memories and connections with whatever the topic is,” said Laura Anderson, of the West Vancouver Historical Society.

“Our feeling as a historical society is that the more these stories can be told, the better we can understand our history.”

The series kicks off Feb. 8 with The Rush for Gold in British Columbia: Multicultural Dream Chasers and the Birth of a Province, a talk presented by authors and CBC Radio veterans Greg Dickson and Mark Forsythe.

The duo will discuss their book The Trail of 1858, a sprawling history of the gold rush in B.C.

Its pages shine a spotlight on West Vancouver man John (Navvy Jack) Thomas, a politician and entrepreneur who was active in the gold fields of Barkerville, with mining claims at Jack of Clubs Creek.

Thomas owned many significant local businesses, operated the first by-request ferry service from Vancouver to Ambleside, and mined and sold a sand-and-gravel mix that went on to be used in many of the concrete foundations of early Vancouver buildings.

Having married Slawiya, a granddaughter of Chief Kiepelano of the Squamish Nation, Thomas had been at the centre of one of the earliest domestic relationships between Indigenous and settler, and the property that he purchased for his wife – on the West Vancouver waterfront – would go on to be home to the region’s first wedding ceremony, church service and post office.

“We’re only now starting to piece together the story of this man, but we thought we would start with the gold rush,” said Anderson. “The Gold Rush was a very pivotal time in B.C. history, and we feel that the story of John Thomas belongs to B.C. as a whole just as much as it does West Vancouver.”

Anderson said the series, which runs until June, will continue to highlight the adventures and achievements of local names, with future editions focusing on the likes of Bill Chapman, head of one of the oldest land surveying firms in the province, and Chris Amer, a West Van resident who left the community to become an underwater archeologist in South Carolina.

What: Local Voices: Local History – The Rush for Gold in British Columbia

When: Feb. 8, doors open at 6 p.m. with talk starting at 6:30 p.m.

Where: West Van Memorial Library’s Welsh Hall

Seats are to be reserved online via the West Van Library’s site

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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