British Columbia

Chinese history museum featuring 1,600 artifacts destroyed in Lytton wildfire

The Lytton Chinese History Museum, a heritage site and home to priceless pieces of Chinese history in B.C., was destroyed by wildfire Wednesday along with much of the village.

Museum highlighted history of thousands of Chinese miners, railway workers, merchants and farmers

The Lytton Chinese History Museum is pictured before and after wildfire destroyed much of the village on June 30. (Google Maps, Facebook/Lytton Chinese History Museum )

The Lytton Chinese History Museum, a heritage site and home to priceless pieces of Chinese history in B.C., was destroyed by wildfire Wednesday along with much of the village.

On Friday, the museum posted an image of the site saying only some rock walls remained following the fire. 

The privately run museum opened in 2017 and claimed to house more than 1,600 artifacts.

"It's just shocking to see the whole thing disappear," said John Atkin, vice-president of the Chinese Canadian Historical Society (CCHS) of B.C.


 

The structure was a recreation of a Chinese "joss house," or temple, which was built in 1881 by Chinese workers who travelled to Lytton to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

According to the province, the temple was a culturally and socially significant place for Chinese Canadians to find spiritual support during difficult times. It was also a place for injured railway workers seeking medical support. 

The original joss house was demolished in 1928, when the federal government sold the land to a local farmer. 

The large wooden building at left bottom corner is the joss house, which was demolished in 1928 after the government sold the land. The Lytton Chinese History Museum was built on the site in 2017. (Lorna Fandrich/Lytton Chinese History Museum)

Lorna and Bernie Fandrich decided to establish the museum in 2017 after finding out the land they'd purchased on Lytton's Main Street used to be the home of the historic joss house. 

The museum's mission was to highlight the experiences and contributions of thousands of Chinese miners, railway workers, merchants and farmers in the B.C. Interior. 

"To step in there and to see those artifacts, I mean it was fascinating for us to go in and see in the display cases the weigh bills and receipts from some of the shops, and then photographs, et cetera. So you got a real sense of the Chinese community there," said Atkin. 

The interior of the original joss house, which was built in 1881. (Lorna Fandrich/Lytton Chinese History Museum)

In May, the museum was awarded the Drs. Wallace B. and Madeline H. Chung Prize for Chinese Canadian Archiving by the CCHS. 

The society mentioned a particularly valuable resource for scholars and students provided by the museum is their digital database of their entire collection.

The B.C. Museums Association says it was told by Lorna Fandrich that the database is the only part of the collection to survive.

Lorna Fandrich, who helped establish the museum in 2017. (Submitted by Lorna Fandrich)

"We see it as a really important piece of history and we really love the museum as it was, and we're really hoping something comes back, so we're there to assist," said Atikin. 

The CCHS, along with the B.C Historical Federation have pledged their support. 

Atkin is unsure of whether the Fandrichs will rebuild, but he is hopeful the museum will continue in some form.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cory Correia

Associate Producer and Video Journalist

Send tips or comments to cory.correia@cbc.ca

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