Learning, Connection and Fun

Bridging History – Connecting the Public with the Past

Posted on: September 12th, 2018 by Tristan Evans

Painting of 1891 bridge by Carolyn Louise Wilson.
The 1891 bridge was designed and constructed by members of the Soowahlie and Skowkale First Nations including Capt. John SWA-lihs, David (sel-AHK-ee-ah-tihl), Commodore (sch-EE-eh-KWEHL), and Harry Uslick (way-OO-sehl-uhk). James Bailey and the Province assisted with the bridge trusses. [PP501752]

When done correctly, interpretive signage has the ability to be a great public history tool.  If done incorrectly, interpretive signage may not only be offensive, it can misinform the pubic on the history of an event, location, or historic site.  Careful consideration on what an individual or organization chooses to portray or omit on an interpretive sign is imperative.  By deciding what and how a historical event is told, interpretive signs often represent more the values of the society creating the signage than the historical event itself.  To put it simply, a good and lasting historic interpretive sign is hard to do.  So hard that the Yukon Department of Tourism has a 65 page Interpretive Signage Strategy!

With this in mind, early last summer I was contacted by City of Chilliwack staff who asked if I could help unearth some information for a new interpretive panel going up at Vedder Crossing.  Although challenging, I’m a big believer in public history and I believe when done with consideration, interpretative panels are a fantastic resource for the public.  In addition to contacting the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, the City also contacted and consulted with the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, other several City of Chilliwack staff members, and many other unnamed community members.  Throughout the summer and into the fall City staff researched, organized and collected our research, looked up and consulted on facts and spelling, asked for more research, consulted more, drafted a couple versions, did more research and consulting, and finally together with the design team came up with the final draft for the new interpretive bridge panel at Vedder Crossing.

Photograph depicts the 1918 wood truss bridge with the Riverside Pavilion in the background [1996.037.012]

This collaborative effort with the City of Chilliwack, Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, and the Chilliwack Museum and Archives finally came together and the City produced the first in a series of interpretive signage at Vedder Crossing.  This panel has since been installed at Vedder Crossing.  It briefly touches on the history of the river and then goes on in greater detail to discuss the nine “permanent” bridges that have been built at this location.

While this first panel focuses on the history of the bridges, future panels will touch on the history of the Ts’elxwéyeqw (Chilliwack) River, the Vedder name and family, biology and fish species, and perhaps more.  Next time you go for a walk by the river at Vedder Crossing I hope you stop by the interpretive panel and take a moment to read about the challenges of constructing a lasting bridge in this location.