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Tashme Museum wins $5,000 grand prize in national historical places contest

Museum showcases history, stories, artifacts from Japanese-Canadians interned at Sunshine Valley during WWII
Special guests at the Sept. 12 dedication event for three memorial trees and three memorial benches on the Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum property. (Ryan Ellan photo)

The Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum is the grand prize winner of a contest for historical places across Canada.

The museum documents the history and showcases artifacts from the Tashme internment camp, in operation in Sunshine Valley from 1942 to 1946. Founder and curator Ryan Ellan said the museum has won the #VisitList contest’s grand prize, worth $5,000 in services including the creation of a virtual reality tour of the museum.

Organized by the National Trust for Canada, a charity working to fund and increase exposure of historic places across the country, the contest involved people preparing lists of historic places to visit and putting them online as well as tagging the historic place they visited. During the month the contest ran, Ellan said he asked every single one of the 261 visitors to ask for their participation.

“We posted the most photos, so we were up against 160 or something other historic sites,” Ellan added. The winners were picked in a random draw, each time a place was added to someone’s list they were entered in the draw said Vanessa Arseneau with the National Trust.

The $5,000 worth of services includes help with marketing, photography and the development of a virtual reality tour.

This isn’t the only good news the formerly one-room museum received. Ellan said a very generous donation has also come in from a Tashme family, the amount they want to keep anonymous. The donation will fund the construction of a 25-seat movie theatre within the 425 square foot original large cold storage room in the internment camp’s butcher shop.

“That was on my bucket list to do, eventually one day,” Ellan said, and when the family visited the museum, they asked him what exactly was on the bucket list. A few weeks later, a cheque arrived in the mail. The room will also serve as additional exhibit space, and as a quiet space where museum visitors can sit and view documentaries.

Ellan is also busy with the restoration of the original Tashme kindergarten schoolhouse which was moved onto the property in 2019.

And Sept. 12, a dedication event was held for newly installed memorial trees and benches on the museum grounds. The three trees and three benches were ‘adopted’ by five Tashme families in total and another family with internment history in the Lethbridge area.

A memorial plaque adorns each bench and tree with information about the family and where they lived in Tashme. The project helped fund a fence around the museum property, which will serve to discourage ATV traffic through the site.

Read more: Kindergarten building survives move to Tashme property

The Tashme internment camp was Canada’s largest, housing 2,600 Japanese Canadians forcibly removed from their homes along the coast after being declared ‘enemy aliens’ and stripped of their possessions by the Canadian government. Tashme was also the closest camp to the B.C. coast, just outside of a 100 mile ‘exclusion zone’ set up by the government during World War II.

Even the drive to Tashme is a part of this dark chapter in Canada’s history, as a stretch of Highway 3 from Hope through the Sunshine Valley to Princeton was built using the forced labour of Japanese Canadian men.

“While not well-known, able-bodied Japanese Canadian men 18 [to] 45 years were sent to roadcamps as slave labour to build B.C. highways during the internment. Their wives and children were held de-facto hostage in nearby internment camps,” Ellan wrote on the National Trust website.

Ellan said never in his wildest dreams did he think the museum would turn into what it has. “The museum started out as a 10 foot by 10 foot display wall, and now we’re pushing 3,100 square feet and growing.”

The Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays this fall.

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Three memorial trees and three memorial benches, and a new fence, have been installed on the Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum property. (Ryan Ellan photo)