Cultural tourism, historical society work, vital

Maureen Alexander of the Mill Bay/Malahat Historical Society had a challenge for the Cowichan Valley Regional District board when she made a presentation on her group’s ongoing efforts.

What do they define as "culture"? she asked, urging them to consider it carefully beyond the arts portion of the definition, and how it is encouraged and funded in the community.

This is key, her presentation emphasized, as cultural tourism is the fastest growing facet of the industry.

To that end, the historical society, manned by hard-working volunteers, has gone beyond just the research and preservation function centred around their museum at Mill Bay’s Pioneer Centre, she said.

Displays in the community include cases in a medical centre lobby and two dozen signs placed around the Mill Bay and Malahat communities about local history.

Alexander said she’s also made history presentations to about 100 groups on Vancouver Island. "With the result that many of them have come to the Cowichan Valley to take part in our events," she said.

Those events include mystery history tours, where local guides take groups to important cultural landmarks, the placing of white crosses in four local cemeteries in November to recognize veterans who came home from the war, and their upcoming Good Old Daze celebration, scheduled this year for July 6-17.

"This is a totally unique look at history," Alexander said of the July event. "We guarantee you have never had a glimpse of the past like this before."

It includes the display of 90 life-size scarecrows of historical figures made by businesses and community groups and scattered throughout the area.

The society is also behind the documentary One Man’s Dream, about the building of the Malahat highway which connects Cowichan to B.C.’s capital to the south.

"This is the biggest and most successful project to date," Alexander said, citing over 300 copies of the film sold in just four months and two sold-out screenings.

She concluded by reminding directors that Mill Bay/Malahat is a gateway to the Cowichan Valley, and promoting cultural tourism in the area benefits the entire region.