Ladysmith’s Charlie Fox made an impression on T.W. Paterson. (submitted)

T.W. Paterson: More obituaries and tributes: Charlie Fox to internment in California

“We take a dark spot in our own history…and we preserve it so that future generations can learn.”

“We take a dark spot in our own history, something other countries might want to cover up, and we maintain and preserve it so that future generations can learn.”—Park ranger Angela Sutton.

I didn’t know Ladysmith’s Charlie Fox but I know I’d have liked him. Then approaching 80, his gentle dignity bordering on courtliness appealed to me.

Hence it came as no real surprise to me to read in his obituary, last July, that he’d been an ordained Lutheran minister. A man of the cloth and a fine folk musician.

Born in Regina, he once rode his bicycle across Canada to raise awareness for mental health and he also worked for KAIROS Canada.

It was that passion for social justice that comes through in his music and brought us together several times at the annual Joseph Mairs memorial in Ladysmith. That’s when he’d sing his standard song, ‘A Million Tons of Coal’, about the Vancouver Island coal miners and the robber barons.

I liked his rendition of the harsh working conditions of the coal mines and the men who daily risked their lives to make the mine owners, particularly the Dunsmuirs, filthy rich so much that I offered to buy a copy. Charlie wouldn’t take my money but he graciously gave me a CD which I continue to enjoy and by which I shall remember him.

My apology, Charlie Fox, for having taken so long to recognize you.

That’s one of the problems with trying to keep up with the obituaries, you know — there are so many of them.

Another that caught my eye, happily more recently, was the March passing of career Victoria firefighter John Shipley. It was his skills as an automotive mechanic that made him invaluable to the team tasked with the restoration of the 1896 Waterous fire engine for which he then had to acquire a steam engineer’s ticket to operate.

Anyone who’s had the privilege of seeing the Charles E. Redfern in action at the Forest Discovery Centre can really appreciate what John Shipley and his fellow firefighters achieved in restoring this classic horse-drawn fire engine.

A founding member of the VFD Historical Society, John devoted his retirement years to other antique firefighting ‘apparatus’ from the department’s past, including several old trucks. Some of these have been prominent in Victoria Day parades and have travelled throughout Canada and the United States, promoting tourism.

For all that, John also found time for commercial and sports fishing which “made him a legend on the waters off Oak Bay and Bamfield”. John Shipley was just shy of his 85th birthday.

And in the same vein of recognizing contribution, another news clipping from March noted that a commemorative plaque honouring Chinese-Canadian pioneers was unveiled in Barkerville.

“As a third generation descendant of Barkerville,” Ray Hong said he was pleased that “a permanent reminder of the sacrifices and contributions made by Chinese British Columbians, including my father Wong Mon ‘Bill’ Hong,” has finally been established in Barkerville, for many years the Cariboo’s gold capital.

This plaque is the fifth of a series of up to 15 interpretive signs, plaques and monuments being installed around the province. Barkerville’s plaque is situated by the town’s Chinatown archway.

In California, they’re honouring Japanese-Americans who were interned as security risks during the Second World War. We interned our Canadian citizens of Japanese descent, too, but with a major difference — we stripped them not just of their liberty and their rights but their property, right down to a single suitcase each.

The Americans weren’t, not even after the trauma of Pearl Harbour, as harsh. Yes, they, too, interned their Japanese citizens in remote communities away from the coast. At one point, Tule Lake, one of 10 internment camps, had as many as 19,000 residents — making it the largest population centre north of Sacramento.

Three hundred people to a block shared 28 bathrooms. But that crowding didn’t compare to the shacks and ghost towns that were pressed into service as internment camps in interior B.C.

Little remains today of Tule Lake Segregation Centre but the National Park Service is doing its bit to preserve the memory of that dark chapter in American history. “Our mandate is to tell the story of Japanese-Americans at Tule Lake,” as well as that of its greater history of native Americans and those who settled there, Larry Whalon told the Los Angeles Times.

Rangers at Manzanar National Historic Site, California’s other wartime internment camp, have been developing this theme for two decades now. Their depiction of that historic period includes “robust displays on the incarceration experience that include audio of oral histories with survivors”.

“It’s a history that’s still alive,” said Manzanar’s chief of interpretation, Alisa Lynch. “We can connect with people who experienced it. It’s a history that is relevant today.”

Park ranger Angela Sutton, a fourth-generation Tule Lake native, sums it up this way: “We take a dark spot in our own history, something other countries might want to cover up, and we maintain and preserve it so that future generations can learn.”

Well said.

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