Students at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) are helping local histories become more accessible.
The university’s “Local History for the Web” course allows students to dive into a topic of their choosing by collaborating with archives in Mission, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Surrey and Langley.
Robin Anderson, a professor emeritus at the UFV History Department, teaches the class every other year, alternating with colleague Scott Sheffield.
“Students spend a lot of time learning about what other people have written about history,” Anderson said. “This is an opportunity for the students to all become historians themselves.”
The class started in 2011 and an array of students completed projects focusing on Mission’s history through the years.
“We did try and make sure that the students were in the area that they wanted to look into and often that had to do with where they were living,” Anderson said.
Each year, the course features a historical theme with a Fraser Valley focus. The topic was the Second World War in the Fraser Valley in 2011, sport and recreation in 2016, the First World War in 2017, Abbotsford’s historic communities in 2019, cultural exchanges in the Fraser Valley in 2020, education in 2021, the 1930s in 2022, and teenagers/youth in 2023.
UFV is in the process of launching a larger website that features each student’s project called fraservalleyhistory.ca. The website will feature past student projects including those focused on the history of Mission.
Mission-centred projects include the histories ofMission Raceway, the Mission Soapbox Derby, sock production in Mission during the First World War, Japanese-Canadian farming in Mission, cultural exchanges in Fraser River Heritage Park, French education in Mission, important female educators, building Mission, Japanese/white relations in the 1930s, how the Second World War impacted teenagers living in Mission, fundraising for teenagers, and school sports in the 1950s.
Students complete research with primary documents through partners such as Mission Community Archives and theSto:lo Research and Resource Management Centre. Part of their project is to construct a website with their findings.
Most of the research has to be completed through archives because of a lengthy approval process to conduct interviews. There are also some areas of local history with blind spots where information isn’t readily available, which students can acknowledge in their projects.
“We help them through the process,” Anderson said.
“There’s one foot in academic history, and another foot in public history.”
Anderson retired in September and earned Professor Emeritus status. He says the next theme could be the history of UFV for its 50th anniversary.
“As you can see, Scott always chooses [topics] that are really driven more by political, military history whereas I choose all the social history,” he said.
For a history of UFV course, students may be able to complete interviews. The website with past projects has yet to be launched.