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Travel time with Cowichan's second photo wall

Looking west on Station Street in 1917. - courtesy Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives
Looking west on Station Street in 1917.
— image credit: courtesy Cowichan Valley Museum and Archives

Kathryn Gagnon’s building a time tunnel for next year’s city centennial.

By summer, history buffs can travel back to 1880s Duncan, or to when local lads headed to fight the Hun in Europe, circa 1914.

Images of those bygone, oft-risky times will be seen in some 20 photographs being picked by Cowichan Valley Museum curator Gagnon for an outdoor exhibit off Canada Avenue.

“It’s celebrating the settlement of Duncan,” she said of the black-and-white photo display tentatively titled Duncan’s Early Settlement.

“It’s about what Duncan was like when settlers first arrived.”

Photos will illustrate relationships between whites and Natives — and perhaps Chinese folks — growth in businesses, city streets and more.

“It’s heavy on photos and light on text,” Gagnon said of the centennial project commissioned by the merchant-funded Duncan Business Improvement Area Society.

MaryAnn Hartley of the DBIA said the group has applied for a city centennial grant toward the project that could cost $20,000.

Money well spent, she said, based on the popularity of downtown’s outdoor Chinatown photo show off Station Street.

The idea, Hartley explained of DBIA’s teamwork with the museum, is educating everyone about history and lost heritage — such as Duncan’s former Chinatown.

“The more you teach people about our (lost) history, the less likely it is to happen again.”

The photo exhibit is slated for the alley behind the Bank of Montreal, across from the museum’s heritage train-station home.

It’ll sport lighting providing safety, and highlighting shots snapped between about 1860 and 1918.

But whittling pictures from “zillions” in the museum’s photo bank to just two dozen is tough, Gagnon explained.

“The criteria is events of pivotal people, events and places.”

They show places such as city hall, King’s Daughters’ Hospital, the train station, and other landmarks remaining or razed.

“It’s what Duncan looked like back with muddy streets, wooden sidewalks, stray dogs, and stumps everywhere.”

Despite the museum’s photo trove, Gagnon welcomes picture donations.

She’s also borrowing one of the city’s earliest images from Cowichanian Keith Price.

“The Price family started the Tzouhalem Hotel,” she said of the structure torn down in 1990 at Canada Avenue and Trunk Road.

She also hopes viewers compare then and now through the shots enlarged on metal boards similar to the Chinatown collection.

“This is a way to permanently tell people about our history.”

That past includes Duncan’s BMO. It was originally a wooden structure, then a brick one before the current concrete bank at Canada and Station.

Gagnon aims to stop more lost heritage with knowledge tools such as photos — copies of which are sold through the museum.

She cited a Globe & Mail story about one-in-five heritage structures being razed nationally.

“What happens here in Cowichan, happens across Canada,” Gagnon said.

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