By Christy Brain, Museum Technician
It’s 2022. Capilano University archaeologist and professor Bob Muckle is at MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver looking into a case containing objects he’s excavated from an archaeological site in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve. Watch our latest Bringing Stories To Life video (above) to learn more about his role in discovering these important artifacts and their story.
Now, let’s rewind to the 1940s. The Second World War is in full swing. North Vancouver’s Burrard Dry Docks has become the busiest shipyard in Canada, building ships and freighters to keep up with wartime demand. The possibility of an Air Raid strike is high, but life goes on.
Away from the shoreline, out of sight from the developing North Vancouver, there is a settlement of Japanese descendants living deep in the woods of what is now known as the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, away from the “city” life and the prejudices that come with it.
1942 saw the Canadian Government uproot and relocate people of Japanese descent to internment camps, many in the British Columbia interior. These people would have been forced to leave, taking with them only what they could carry.
Decades later, the former settlement in North Vancouver would become an area of interest to a University Professor who was in search of a site to teach his archaeological students how to excavate.
Discovery at Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve
Since 2004, Bob Muckle has been taking his students to this site in the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve to continue excavating. He believes the site was once home to 40 to 50 people.
Muckle and his team of students have found evidence of 14 small houses, a small shrine, a garden, a water storage reservoir and even a constructed bathhouse. This is one of very few bathhouses that have been excavated outside of Japan, pointing to the significance this area must have once had.
One of the larger collections of objects Muckle and his students discovered was an array of dishes and pottery. From rice bowls, medicine jars and sake cups and bottles, the condition and quality of many objects supports Muckle’s theory that the Japanese settlement was abruptly vacated, leaving behind objects they would have otherwise taken with them.
A Tangible Piece of History
Over the years, Muckle has acquired over 1,000 objects from this site, turning this excavation project into a labour of love. Beyond pottery and bottles, the team has unearthed objects like ink bottles, buttons, a pocket watch, and portions of footwear.
“The overarching significance of these objects is that it provides a tangible piece of history that most people were unaware of,” noted Bob Muckle. “Even most people in the local Japanese community had no idea of the presence of Japanese in the logging industry in the Seymour Valley.”
Both MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver and the Nikkei National Museum in Burnaby are new homes to artifacts of this collection, where they can be conversation pieces to explore this part of Vancouver’s Japanese history.
Bring Stories To Life.
MONOVA invites you to share in this fascinating discovery of North Vancouver’s Japanese history by visiting the Museum of North Vancouver.
MONOVA relies on donations to acquire and present new artefacts in our collection. Your gift will help MONOVA share this rich and vibrant history.
Donations are accepted through the Friends of the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Society, Registered Charity No. 89031 1772 RR0001.
We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.