Have an hour to spare during your next Richmond visit? Head to the Richmond Museum. Tucked alongside the entrance to the main public library branch in the Richmond Cultural Centre, this inviting space is perfect for a leisurely browse. And if you haven’t yet discovered its current show, check it out now: Our Journeys Here closes on September 3.
What’s it all about?
This multilayered exhibition, running since 2017, showcases the kaleidoscopic cultural diversity of Richmond’s population. Its colourful, often personal artifacts evoke the stories of locals who have moved here from distant countries—many of them building successful lives in their adopted city while never forgetting the places they originally came from. In many ways, this exhibition (and the city itself) is the story of Canada and what it means to be Canadian in microcosm.
Check out the Our Journeys Here exhibit until September 3. | Photo: Richmond Museum
What will I see?
Our Journeys Here is divided into several thematic areas. Its display cases start with a selection of First Nations artifacts—including ceremonial items and a small totem pole—which indicate exactly who the first Richmond locals were. There’s also an illustrated timeline of Canadian immigration history that contextualizes the stories of those who’ve moved here over the decades, many of them under challenging circumstances.
But sometimes its the nostalgic everyday items that many visitors will connect with most. These include a circa-1900 mortar and pestle from Steveston’s Hing Wo General Store—Richmond’s first supermarket—and a small 1960s menu from the Bamboo Grove restaurant, which still operates in the city today.
Even more evocative are the items that Canada-bound immigrants—typically with limited packing space—could not leave behind when they left their original homes. Like three-dimensional snapshots of other cultures and previous lives, they include a hand-cranked ice-cream maker from Kenya; a pair of beer steins from Germany, and even a fretwork machine, used by its owner to make toys for children in Wales and then also in his new home in Richmond.
The "My Story Is..." luggage labels have been very popular with visitors. | Photo: Richmond Museum
It’s not all about heartwarming artifacts, though. The exhibition’s wall-mounted timeline of Canada’s immigration story shows that moving here hasn’t always been a completely joyous process. Panels explain that groups of refugees from deeply troubled regions have often received safe haven in Canada, including 37,000 Hungarians who arrived after the failed 1950s anti-Soviet uprising and, more recently, 26,000 war-ravaged Syrians welcomed here between 2012 and 2016.
The tumultuous Chinese story, of course, is also explored in the exhibition. There’s a 1922 Head Tax certificate showing that the father of Yen Toy Wong paid a then-astronomical $500 so that his son could attend school and be employed in Canada. It was purchased just a year before the Chinese Exclusion Act became law, ensuring that only 15 Chinese immigrants were accepted into the entire country up until 1946, when the law was finally repealed.
But the show also does a good job of bringing the immigration story up to date. I enjoyed perusing the country-specific clothing items—including a Filipino man’s formal shirt—that have been loaned to the exhibition by locals, some of whom also have smiling portraits and panels here describing their personal stories. I also discovered some surprises, including the fact that Richmond’s Timothy Hsai designed Canada’s glow-in-the-dark Twoonie coin.
The exhibition also has some cool interactive elements. There’s a tabletop game that asks visitors to quiz each on the citizenship questions Canadians-to-be have to answer as part of their application. As someone who moved here from the UK many years ago, I once took this test myself, although I’m not sure if I could answer questions about Confederation or Canada’s main industries today!
A visitor checks out the citizenship test questions. | Photo: Richmond Museum
There’s also a wall of luggage labels where visitors are invited to pick up a pencil and complete the sentence “My story is…”. Answers have ranged from “I like Pokemon” to “I was born to be an artist and keep avoiding to be a great one.” I also added my own: “I need to visit more local museums.” The museum’s curator Sheila Hill later told me that they had initially ordered 250 of these labels, but they had to buy hundreds more when visitors eagerly used them up.
Sheila also told me that this particular show, now in its final weeks, has really resonated with Richmond locals as well as curious visitors. “This exhibition is really an exploration of who we are. It has also given many locals the chance to talk about their own story and share it with the rest of the community. It has been an honour and a pleasure to work on an exhibit like this.”
If you go
The Richmond Museum’s Our Journeys Here runs until September 3. The museum is open from 9:00am to 9:30pm Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm Saturday, and 10:00am to 5:00pm Sunday. Admission is by donation.
Want to make a full afternoon of it? The Richmond Art Gallery is right next door to the museum and, if you’re here on a Tuesday, Kwantlen St. Farmers Market is operating in the plaza outside the building until October 2.