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Appreciating our Volunteers

April 10, 2015

One of the best parts of my job is that I get to share it with a team of enthusiastic people who volunteer at the Discovery Centre. These individuals bring so much energy and enthusiasm for the Centre’s work towards its mission, ensuring the success of programs, events, and exhibits. They are all dedicated and hardworking people who contribute a great deal not just to the final product seen by our visitors, but throughout the creative process of developing new exhibits, events, and programs.

the FRDC workforce

the FRDC workforce

Recently, experienced volunteers have been taking a larger role in mentoring new volunteers. Our school program volunteer team is primarily made up of retired teachers and university students who are interested in becoming teachers. The retired teachers mentor the team, sharing ideas and skills developed over their teaching careers. Earlier this year, the retired teachers joined together to present a “Tricks of the Trade” workshop, which included helping new volunteers learn the art of voice projection without straining their vocal cords. Experienced gallery interpreters have also led training sessions for new volunteers, sharing their experiences of working with the public in the exhibit galleries. I enjoy these sessions where I get to see the depth and breadth of the leadership experience on our volunteer team and the commitment they all have to the quality of programming at the Discovery Centre.

Interpretive volunteers at the pollution model

Interpretive volunteers at the pollution model

Members of the volunteer team have also recently expressed a desire for more training and educational opportunities, including outings and social activities. I love that they are asking for more ways to learn and grow together. It is impossible for any of us to know everything there is to know about the Fraser River from the headwaters to the estuary, past and present. But when we put on our blue shirts, visitors expect that we will know a lot of about the river. So we strive to keep informed on current issues and continue to learn about historical ones. We have recently set up volunteer committees to coordinate these learning and social activities. I can’t wait to see what they bring to the team.

April is a good time to celebrate our volunteer team because it is National Volunteer Appreciation month, and at the Discovery Centre we like to celebrate the efforts of our dedicated team of volunteers in a few special ways. This year, Wayne McCartney, the manager of Kerrisdale Cameras Burnaby Branch, has generously donated a photography workshop for our volunteer team. Once we learn a few tricks to taking gorgeous river photos from Wayne, we will spill out onto the boardwalk to take those perfect shots before heading over to Wild Rice for some delicious eats.

Kathleen 2010

This year, we are also honouring individual volunteers with additional gifts provided by generous local businesses including the Boathouse Restaurant at the Quay, Landmark Cinemas, Tim Hortons, and Safeway at Plaza 88, White Spot at 6th and 6th, and Boston Pizza and Starbucks at Columbia Square. We appreciate that these local businesses have made it easier for us to thank our volunteers for their commitment and work over the past year.

To our volunteer team: on behalf of all FRDC staff members, my heartfelt thanks to you for making our jobs so much fun!


Recovering from Gold Fever!

April 1, 2015

On Saturday March 21, we hosted our Gold Fever! public program at the Fraser River Discovery Centre, which featured interactive stations and special guests to educate families about life during the Gold Rush in British Columbia. Event participants even received prize packs at the end, featuring tons of vouchers, buttons, FRDC souvenirs, and of course…gold (chocolate) coins! Volunteers, contributors from other organizations, and our visitors helped to make this event a big success. Check out the gallery below for pictures from the day:

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Special thanks to:

Britannia Mine Museum

Fort Langley National Historic Site

River Market

Sticky’s Candy

Tourism New Westminster

UBC Let’s Talk Science

Yale Historic Site

Yukon Dan

Stay tuned for more fun, educational events at the FRDC!

New Interactive Exhibit Node

March 25, 2015

If you’ve taken a stroll along the New Westminster boardwalk, the large gantry cranes located across the river at Fraser Surrey Docks (FSD) are hard to miss. I’m sure you have all seen the large container ships going up and down the Fraser River to and from the FSD. Have you ever wondered what’s in those containers? Where are they going? Where did they come from? There is an exciting new addition to our I Spy with My Little Eye exhibit that answers all these burning questions!

The Port Arrivals Interactive Map provides a visualization of ships that passed through Fraser Surrey Docks during 2013. It was created as a semester long project by Micaelee Hanson at Emily Carr University of Art and Design.  Through a touch screen table interface, users interact with the map by moving ship blocks over the screen. One block affects the timeline (from January to December 2013); one acts as a pointer; and the third ship rotates to show different information about the vessel (name of the ship, type of cargo, country of origin, and date of arrival to FSD).

Come down to the Discovery Centre and check it out!I Spy - interactive node panel -UPDATED

Gold Fever in BC: Boomtowns and Hanging Judges

March 18, 2015

This is the final installment in our 3-part series about the Gold Rush era in the Fraser River Basin. Don’t miss our earlier posts on Cariboo Camels and Women in the Gold Rush.

Miners flocked in their thousands to the Fraser River basin. Illustration by J. Ross Browne from Harper’s Monthly Magazine, December 1860. Via Wikimedia Commons.

We often think of the 21st century as the age of travel, but did you know that many communities in the 19th century were just as cosmopolitan? The Fraser River and Cariboo Gold Rushes brought thousands of hopeful miners from all over the world to British Columbia. Existing communities such as Victoria and Fort Langley exploded in size and entire towns seemed to pop up overnight. In the 1860s, one of these new mining communities was Barkerville. This Gold Rush boomtown was once considered to be the biggest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. People of many different backgrounds, cultures, languages, and ethnicities were suddenly thrown together in the pursuit of wealth – sometimes with volatile results. Barkerville’s Chinese community was particularly large, boasting a population as large as 5000. The town also attracted Americans of all ethnicities, Australians, Europeans, Hawaiians, Mexicans, and Aboriginal people from near and far. Of course, Barkerville was no social utopia; racism was both widespread and institutionalized in Gold Rush-era B.C. Yet these early West Coast boomtowns provided a glimpse of our future province; a place where, despite immense challenges, people from all over the world could come to chase dreams and opportunities.

Sir Matthew Begbie via Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Matthew Begbie via Wikimedia Commons.

The life of Sir Matthew Begbie is a good example of the fascinating lives led by many in the Gold Rush era. Born in 1819 on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, Begbie was the son of a British army Colonel. He spent his early life there until his family moved to Great Britain when he was 7. After studying mathematics and law at university, he established a successful legal practice in London. In 1858, he was recruited into the service of the Empire, and traveled to B.C. to become the new colony’s first Supreme Court Judge. Begbie was a rather enigmatic figure who reportedly enjoyed sketching, learning Aboriginal languages, and even performing opera.

Miners at the "Mucho Oro" (Much Gold) gold mine near Barkerville, 1868. Photo by Frederick Dally.

Miners at the “Mucho Oro” (Much Gold) gold mine near Barkerville, 1868. Photo by Frederick Dally.

Begbie roamed throughout B.C. as a travelling judge (very few permanent courthouses existed in the province at the time, and it is believed that he once held a court session whilst riding a donkey), but he spent a significant period of time in Barkerville. Although Begbie is now sometimes thought of as an infamous “Hanging Judge,” among contemporaries he had a reputation as someone who could maintain justice in the booming but unruly Gold Rush towns. Begbie’s colourful life would not have been out of the ordinary in diverse Barkerville. Although international travel might be faster and more reliable today, most of us still haven’t seen as much of the world as the participants in B.C.’s Gold Rushes.

Want to learn more about the Gold Rush? Register for our Gold Fever! event on Saturday March 21 at the Fraser River Discovery Centre. 

Inspired by the River: A Volunteer’s Perspective

March 14, 2015


I have been volunteering at the Fraser River Discovery Centre for about 8 years, and last week for the first time, I observed a new school program that I had never been involved with before. it is called “ Inspired by the River”.


An inspired poet once wrote that “inspired” means

“aroused, animated, or imbued with the spirit to do something, by or as if by supernatural or divine influence.”

I’m not sure if I would call the Fraser River, supernatural or divine, but after having worked at FRDC all these years, I could say the experience is divine!


This program is creative, or as Wikipedia says, “taking in the relationship between creativity and general intelligence, mental and neurological processes associated with creativity.”


The Fraser River certainly is a unique stimulus for many students who come to the Centre, and who have never given it any thought.


Using the Fraser River, we encourage students to look for visual patterns in and around the River. There are always patterns in nature, often chaotic, sometimes repeating, maybe even mathematical (which never really comes up!). Spirals, meanders, waves, cracks, rotations and reflections are all part of the process.


The art of observation is different for everyone, and some notice a lot of detail in the ongoing events of life. Others, well let’s just say it breezes over them. So part of this activity is to just question and report on the observations the whole group makes. And the hope is that the stimulus helps students see the river from a new perspective.


We like to make those connections that exist in people’s natural economic and artistic lives with what we see going on around us. What do the ships passing by contain and where have they been before? Why do we import things like cars or bananas?


What relation are activities on the river to industries and communities that are located along the river? How are humans and their environment interconnected and how does our behavior affect the health of the river.


All this is done in a light hearted and engaging manner. We have students draw the patterns they see on the river (see the mural photos). They may act out activities that happen in or on the river. As always, we try to connect each program to the learning outcomes which all students in BC strive to meet!


I have included some photos that I took of patterns, all of which are visible from or within the Discovery Centre. Some you may recognize, some you may not. That’s the fun of this program; what one person sees, another does not!


Years ago, while still a student we had a photography assignment to take black and white pictures of textures and patterns that we see in everyday life. In those days, we also had to develop and print the pictures ourselves. That art is now gone!


But the heightened experience is what is important. In fact, as the students were going about their activities, I marveled at the various patterns that I saw on their clothes. And, on my way home, walking along the boardwalk, I saw myriads of patterns in the plant life, the river, the condos alongside the river and the boardwalk itself.


It seems the First Peoples had a sense of patterns as well….

Mike Hoyer, Docent, FRDC school programs

Gold Fever in BC: Women in the Gold Rush

March 11, 2015

This post is the second installment in a 3-part series about the Gold Rush era in the Fraser River basin. Read the first installment here.

In honour of Women’s History Month, we’re taking a look at some female figures from Gold Rush history.

Although the vast majority of miners who travelled to the Fraser River basin in search of gold were men, a small number of women also made their mark.

Woman panning for gold by louis denison taylor. Courtesy City of Vancouver Archives.

Woman panning for gold by Louis Denison Taylor. Courtesy City of Vancouver Archives.

Catherine Schubert was the first European woman to enter B.C. overland from the East. Born in Ireland in 1835, she emigrated to Massachusetts at 16 and worked as a maid until she married German carpenter Augustus Schubert in 1855. They first moved to Minnesota and opened a grocery store, but an economic depression forced them to relocate once again to Fort Garry (now downtown Winnipeg). In May 1862, a group of 150 miners from Eastern Canada arrived at the Fort on their way to the Cariboo gold fields. Augustus decided to join them, but controversially refused to leave his Catherine and their 3 small children behind. The group, who would later become known as the Overlanders, travelled thousands of miles by foot, covered wagon, and boat to the Cariboo. Catherine was 4 months pregnant when they left Fort Garry, which must have made the arduous journey even more difficult. After a 5-month trek across the Prairies, Rocky Mountains, and down the North Thompson River, the group arrived in Kamloops after dark on October 14, 1862. That very night Catherine gave birth to a healthy girl named Rose. She was the first European woman born in the Kamloops area.

Catherine Schubert, courtesy of B.C. Archives.

Catherine Schubert, courtesy of B.C. Archives.

Other women involved in the Gold Rush have rather more negative reputations. Scottish-born Agnus McVee owned and operated the 108 Mile Roadhouse hotel with her husband along the Cariboo Wagon Road, providing a rest stop for prospectors on their way to the gold fields. Local legend has it that the McVees were serial killers who implemented an elaborate scheme to murder unsuspecting miners and steal their gold. According to some reports, Agnus and her associates would shoot their victims, load their bodies onto a wagon, and dispose of them them in nearby lakes. Any gold found on the cadavers would be collected and hidden in caches around the area. As many as 59 bodies were found near the 108 Mile Roadhouse, but this may not have been shocking to authorities considering the prevalence of crime and lawlessness in many gold rush communities. In 1885, Agnus was finally tried and convicted for her crimes, but apparently escaped capital punishment by swallowing poison in her jail cell in New Westminster.

Although there is some controversy about whether the McVees actually existed, there is no doubt that women from all walks of life helped shape the history of the Gold Rush in B.C.

Want to learn more? Join us at the Fraser River Discovery Centre for our Gold Fever! event on Saturday March 21. Get your tickets here!

Gold Fever in BC: Camels in the Cariboo

March 4, 2015

This post is the first installment in a 3-part series about the Gold Rush era in the Fraser River basin.

It’s hard to overestimate the impact of the Fraser River and Cariboo gold rushes on the history of British Columbia and Canada. Considering both events happened in the Fraser River basin, the staff and volunteers here at the Fraser River Discovery Centre always have a touch of gold fever! Most history buffs are already familiar with some of the key stories from this era, such as the creation of the colony of British Columbia, and the naming of New Westminster as its first capital. But there are also many fascinating, lesser-known stories of gold rush-era B.C. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our favourites with you. Today: the true story of camels in the Cariboo.

As outlandish as it sounds, Bactrian camels once trod the famous Cariboo Road during the 1860s. The Road was the brainchild of James Douglas, first Governor of the Colony of British Columbia.

The route of the Cariboo Road (in red).

The route of the Cariboo Road (in red).

In 1861, gold was discovered in the Cariboo Mountains, launching the start of a second gold rush in the Fraser River basin in less than 5 years. The discovery attracted thousands of miners to the remote area; some had already been involved in the earlier Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, and others traveled from around the world in hopes of striking it rich. The route through the treacherous terrain of interior B.C. was slow and dangerous for people and their valuable cargo. The creation of the Cariboo Road from Yale to Barkerville provided a relatively safer, faster route to the Cariboo Gold Fields. Costing about $1.25 million to build, the Road was one of Governor Douglas’s most costly ventures. However, approximately $6.5 million worth of gold was transported along the road, so some might argue it was a good investment!

Although the Cariboo Road made travelling easier, miners still looked for ways they could decrease their journey times, and thereby increase their potential profits. In 1862, a man called Frank Laumeister had a curious idea: replace

The Cariboo Road circa 1867, photo by Frederick Dally.

The Cariboo Road circa 1867, photo by Frederick Dally.

pack mules and stage coaches with Bactrian camels, the trusted steed of many Asian cultures since ancient times. Camels can carry loads of up to 600 pounds, about twice as much as the mules traditionally used by gold miners. Doubling the amount of gold and supplies that could be transported to and from the Cariboo had obvious advantages. In early March 1862, Laumeister and his associates purchased 23 camels from a San Francisco merchant ( the animals had probably been associated with the short-lived U.S. Camel Corps). The dromedaries were brought to Victoria in April via steamship, and after a few weeks were transported by barge to New Westminster.

Although the idea of these shaggy, two-humped beasts plodding up and down the Fraser carrying prospectors, supplies,

A Cariboo camel, via Wikimedia Commons.

A Cariboo camel, via Wikimedia Commons.

and gold on their backs might sound strange (if not downright comical), there was actually sound logic behind the idea. Like all camels, Bactrians can endure long periods of travel and harsh conditions without water, which gave them an advantage over horses and mules on the long journey to the Cariboo. Moreover, because this particular species comes from the rocky deserts of Central Asia, they could withstand both hot summers and bitterly cold winters.

Alas, the Cariboo camel experiment ultimately failed for several reasons. Firstly, horses were prone to rearing or bolting in fear upon encountering the foreign beasts, leaving riders and cargo stranded in the chaos. Camels also had an inconvenient habit of eating supplies such as clothing and bars of soap. Lastly, even the tough feet of Bactrian camels were no match for the harsh terrain of the Cariboo Road; the creatures suffered so many cuts and sores that canvas shoes had to be made for them! Perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the project came from personal bias; the famous dispenser of justice B.C. Supreme Court Judge Matthew Begbie reportedly despised the Cariboo camels after one bolted off into the wilderness, carrying him unceremoniously with it!

In 1863, just one year after they arrived, Laumeister was forced to retire his camel trains. The fate of these once-infamous dromedaries is rather mysterious. Some were sold privately as exotic pets or ranch animals, while others seem to have escaped into the wild. Sightings were reported until as late as 1910.

Although trains of camels and hopeful miners no longer roam the Fraser River basin as they once did, their strange and surprising stories still remain.

Want to learn more about the Fraser River during the Gold Rush? Stay tuned for more blog posts in this series and register for our Gold Fever! event on Saturday, March 21 at the Fraser River Discovery Centre.