A black and white photo of children supporting a Chinese lion head and body. Only there legs and knee socks are visible. They are standing in a park with a fence around it in the background.
A group of children operating the Chinese lion head and body, which is now part of the Vernon Museum’s collection, circa 1935.

Asian Heritage mONTH

The Chinese Lion Head in 1977.

With May being Asian Heritage Month, it is a perfect time to uncover one of the Vernon Museum’s most fascinating, but rarely seen, artifacts.

In 1985, a traditional Chinese lion head was donated to the museum by the Chinese Free Masons. Due to its fragile condition and rarity, the head is rarely put on display, but spends most of its time in a custom-made storage container.

It is made from a framework of bamboo and wire, with brightly-coloured paper fleshing out its shape. Levers and pull-strings on its underside allow the eyes and mouth to be manipulated, and a long swath of fabric forms its body.

aN iMPORTANT cULTURAL aRTIFACT

The Chinese Lion Head in 1983.

Although its exact age is unknown, the head is believed to be more than 120 years old, and was the first to be used in Vernon. This incredible artifact made appearances at many important city events, including festivities hosted in honour of B.C.’s 100th Anniversary in 1958.

The head was also used at local Chinese New Year celebrations. While the traditional dragon dance requires at least nine performances, lion dances only require two, with one managing the head and one the body. Vernon’s lion costume was usually operated by two members of the local Chinese community, Walter Joe (1916-2005) and John Wong (1921-2001).

Lion dancing is believed to have originated in either the Han (206 BC-220 AD) or Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), and has continued to evolve as form of cultural expression ever since.  

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

As we get closer to the Vernon Lapidary Club’s Holiday Rock and Gem Market event at the Vernon Museum (December 11 from 10 AM to 3 PM), we wanted to take a critical look at one of our own rock collections.

 

Nothing Constant, but Change Itself

Changing policies and practices over time have result in some mysteries among the Vernon Museum’s artifact collection. One example is a seemingly innocuous collection of rocks that habour a troubling secret. While no paperwork appears to exist to explain why and when they were added to the museum’s collection, a small note tucked among the rocks suggests they are connected to the St. George’s Residential School in Lytton, BC. 

St. George’s Residential School in Lytton, BC. Photo courtesy of the Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Center.

Links to a Dark Past

In 1941, Reverend Charles Hives was appointed principal. The note suggests that it was Hives and a group of students who collected the rocks. An additional piece of paper, yellow with age, identifies them as opal, lead, iron, agate, and jasper, and states that they were gathered from places as far off as Idaho, Texas, and Oregon. It is not known what brought Hives and the children to the United States, but records from Library and Archives Canada suggest that some students did learn to make jewelry from jasper while attending St. George’s Residential School.

The residential school operated from 1901 to 1979. It was originally a boys-only institute, but after the All Hallows School for Girls in Yale closed in 1920, the girls were transferred to St. George’s. Throughout the years, the school experienced problems with sanitization, fire safety, and overcrowding. In 1926/’27, a flu epidemic led to the death of 13 children.

How Did They Come to Be Here? 

The presence of this collection of rocks in the Vernon Museum raises many questions: how did they come to be here? Is it appropriate for us to have them? Are we able to repatriate them to the Lytton First Nation? Despite their humble nature, it is essential that artifacts like these rocks are treated respectfully to honour all who attended residential schools across Canada. 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator