British Columbia

Archaeologist 'decolonizes' B.C.'s road signs via Photoshop

An archaeologist has started an online project to update and rewrite some of B.C.'s "stop of interest" roadside signs to acknowledge precolonial and Indigenous histories.

Online project revamping B.C.'s stop of interest signs meant to highlight alternate, pre-colonial histories

Joanne Hammond has started an online campaign to rewrite 'stops of interest' signs that dot B.C.'s highways to include pre-colonial and Indigenous history. (Joanne Hammond/Republic of Archaeology)

A Kamloops archeologist says the green-and-cream "stop of interest" plaques that dot B.C.'s highways are misleading and need a 21st century update.

Joanne Hammond says the signs exclude the perspective of Indigenous British Columbians and often privilege one version of history over another.

She started an online project called #rewriteBC to provide alternative versions of the stories told on the plaques with her own Photoshopped versions of the signs.

The genesis for the idea came after the Ministry of Transportation unveiled a plan in Sept. 2016 to refurbish the signs and add up to 75 new ones.

"They refurbished one just up the street where I live," Hammond explained. "I was surprised to see that although the paint was new, the 1950s colonial-era narrative was still there."

Hammond said the signs often portray B.C. as a "wild, natural crossroads" discovered by settlers and exclude Indigenous stories and people from the narrative.

One of Joanne Hammond's photoshopped signs. (Joanne Hammond/Republic of Archaeology)

She said the signs leave many British Columbians without an accurate sense of the province's history.

"Those are the kinds of stories that British Columbians and tourists are being educated on, so we need to seriously think about what the message are in those signs," she said.

Here, Hammond rewrites a Kamloops "stop of interest" plaque to better reflect it as the home of the Secwepemc people. (Johanne Hammond/Republic of Archaeology)

For the most part, Hammond says she has received mostly positive responses, especially from Indigenous people.

"They're meant to be provocative for sure," Hammond said, but added that most of the information is from archaeological knowledge, documented history, as well as First Nations testimonies.

"I'm using the truth of what happened there. It surprises people because we don't often talk about it."

Hammond calls this one of her more provocative signs. (Joanne Hammond/Republic of Archaeology)

The Ministry of Transportation's public consultation period for additional "stop of interest" signs ended on Jan. 31, 2017. The Ministry has planned to install new signs during late spring and early summer this year.

With files from On the Coast

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Archaeologist 'decolonizes' B.C.'s historic signs via Photoshop