This week we would like to introduce you to the South Vancouver Island Regional Heritage Fair and its coordinator Helen Edwards.
The first Regional Heritage Fair held in Victoria was in 1996 at the historic Craigflower Schoolhouse on Admirals Road in Saanich. By the second year, the Fair had already grown so that it moved to the modern Craigflower Elementary School auditorium across the street from the old Schoolhouse. Hallmark Heritage Society took on organizing the South Vancouver Regional Heritage Fair about 2001 when the Curator at Craigflower Schoolhouse and Manor could no longer do it. At that point, the Fair site moved to the Royal BC Museum as a host venue. For the last 16 years, the South Vancouver Island Regional Heritage Fair has been coordinated by the Hallmark Heritage Society and hosted at the Royal BC Museum.
The Hallmark Heritage Society was the natural group to take on the task of hosting because we are the Victoria area non-profit organization with a heritage and education mandate.
Another heritage and education project we are involved in with youth is a program with Craigflower Elementary School. Hallmark Heritage Society recently moved into Craigflower Schoolhouse National Historic Site on Admirals’ Road and across the street from Craigflower Elementary School. We contacted the school, and one of the teachers there asked us about doing events with the First Nations students at the school – close to 90% of the students at the Elementary school are First Nations. We worked out a program in which Hallmark provides the historic Schoolhouse space every weekday morning to the elementary school First Nations program. About 15 students, grades 2-5 spend time there learning about their culture. A Wellness Centre staff person is also involved with the program. At the beginning of the program, the Shaker Church came and did a traditional blessing of the historic Schoolhouse to launch the program.
Helen Edwards, current regional coordinator, became involved in Heritage Fairs when she was asked by Jennifer Iredale, (then Curator of Craigflower Manor / Schoolhouse and Coordinator of the Regional Fair) to be a judge of the student projects. This was in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s. She was very impressed with the students’ projects. One student’s work stood out – it was a project on a historic house in the Uplands area of Victoria. The student had researched the history of the house and found original blue-prints. Then they had built a 3-dimensional model of the house as their Fairs project. It was detailed and meticulous.
The kids are her favorite thing about the Heritage Fairs program. The kids and their enthusiasm – that is why she is still coordinating the Regional Fair – after 16 years. The student projects make her see issues and history through their eyes. They change how she – and the Fairs audience and the judges – see things and help change our pre-conceived notions of history.
A moment that brought the fun and relevance of the Heritage Fairs Program home to her was when a young girl did a project on her grandmother’s London choir that had visited Victoria decades ago. During the Regional Fair – one of the audience members who was exploring the projects turned out to be the grandson of the London Choir Director who had traveled to Victoria with the student’s grandmother as one of the singers! The connection was just magic. How amazing that both families had since moved from Britain and now lived in Victoria – and their descendants connected because of a Heritage Fairs project 2 generations later!
The biggest challenges that the South Vancouver Island Regional Fair faces is competition with other activities such as Science Fairs (with larger budgets), sports and all the other things kids are involved in these days. As well as support and recognition from the School Board. Currently, direct contact with teachers works best – the end goal is to have more classes participating in the fair. Having support from the School Board would help achieve that goal.
What is successful about the South Vancouver Fair is the amazing partnership with the Royal BC Museum as host venue and the great support from local agencies who provide awards. This year they will have local awards from the University of Victoria Library, the RBCM (for an aboriginal project), their own Hallmark Heritage Society, the Victoria HarbourCats baseball team and three ‘people’s choice’ awards from Heritage BC.
They also offer great workshops for their delegates during the Fair – a walking tour of old Victoria with ‘Discover the Past Tours’ and workshops at the Museum with Discover the Past staff. The Fair delegates stay very occupied when they are not interpreting their projects to the judges and visitors at the Museum.