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Reach Gallery in Abbotsford earns Governor General’s History Award

Organization recognized for project on Sumas Lake, including book
The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford has received the Governor General’s History Award for its project on Sumas Lake, which includes a puppet performance, a book, an exhibition and educational resources. (Rachel Topham Photography)

The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford has received the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming.

The organization and its collaborators are being recognized for the project Semá:th X̱ó:tsa: Sts’ólemeqwelh Sx̱ó:tsa (Sumas Lake: Great-Gramma’s Lake).

The project resulted in in a children’s history book, an exhibition, a puppet performance, and educational resources.

The working group responsible for the project comprises Thetáx Chris Silver (Semá:th First Nation), Xémontélót Carrielynn Victor (Cheam First Nation), and Kris Foulds and Laura Schneider from The Reach.

Using memory and story, the project recalls a time when the lake was thriving, and invites the public to consider the ongoing repercussions of colonialism in their community.

“My goal when we started the book was get the story out there to let everyone know about Semá:th X̱ó:tsa (Sumas Lake), what it meant to our people, and how environmental changes have drastically impacted and changed our lives as a people,” Silver said.

“It’s important to acknowledge and respect our history and the history of S’ólh Téméxw, the land. It’s important to recognize our people and our place names for this land. It’s our history and it’s important. It is our Sqwélqwel: the truth as we know it.”

RELATED: Reach Gallery Abbotsford releases new kids’ book about Sumas Lake

The children’s book has been especially popular. Since its publication in November 2020, more than 1,500 copies of the book have been delivered directly to Stó:lō communities, and an additional 1,500 were distributed to school boards in Abbotsford, Mission, and Chilliwack.

The book was also picked up by education publisher Scholastic Canada Ltd. as a part of their Grade 3 science curriculum resources.

Since the lake temporarily returned during the 2021 floods in the Fraser Valley, the project has only become more timely.

“Recognition is important. It helps people near and far continue to observe how the lake lives in the memory of the land, and when it rains long enough, we see the lake return to itself,” said Victor, who is responsible for the book’s illustrations.

Schneider said: “As a project team of museum workers and Stó:lō community leaders, we share an interest in drawing awareness to historical realities that continue to shape our community today. The urgency of sharing this knowledge was emphasized for us when the lake returned during the November 2021 floods in the Fraser Valley.”

The Semá:th X̱ó:tsa exhibition is currently on view at Evergreen Cultural Centre in Coquitlam until July 17, 2022.

The project is also the recipient of a 2021 Heritage BC Award of Honour for Education, Awareness and Communication, and a 2021 BC Museums Association Award for Excellence in Community Engagement.

This is the second project for which The Reach has received a Governor General’s History Award. The first was awarded in 2016 for programming associated with the permanent museum exhibition Voices of the Valley.

RELATED: The Reach Gallery earns award for kids’ book about Sumas Lake

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