Local history ‘is alive’ with stories

THE COLLECTION of historical Terrace items is growing rapidly at the library and the public gets a chance to see a piece of it this weekend.

THE COLLECTION of historical Terrace items is growing rapidly at the library and the public gets a chance to see a piece of it at an upcoming open house this weekend.

“History here is alive,” said local history librarian Owen Hewitt, who is here for four months organizing the various historical items the library has had stashed away.

“The neat thing about history is it’s not just names and dates, it’s an attempt to have empathy for people living in times with advantages or disadvantages we don’t have.”

Hewitt has been through the items of local pioneers’ lives and there’s quite a lot to tell.

For one person, prospector Joe Felber, items donated by his family detail parts of his life in photos, documents, mining certificates, letters and postcards.

For example, Felber’s matriculation card from the Swiss consulate in Winnipeg, issued in 1923, place him as the 332nd person to get a card at that office and records when he came to Canada, said Hewitt.

“In many ways, his story is Canada’s story,” he said. Felber was one of the people who made Terrace a boomtown in the 1950s and during the war, he added.

Whether Felber came to Canada to escape tough times in Europe or because he was an adventurer isn’t known for sure.

When he came here the Great War – the First World War – was still a memory, U.S. President Harding was in power and President Wilson’s food aid was still in place, sending food aid from the U.S. to Germany and Poland.

It took a lot of courage for Felber to come to Canada and northwestern B.C. at that time.

“To come to B.C. must have been an insanely attractive prospect,” said Hewitt, adding that  Canada was overall a fairly safe place to immigrate to at that time.

“Terrace, Smithers and Hazelton wouldn’t be here if people did not do that,” he said about people leaving Europe to come to Canada.

Business letters of Felber’s indicate his colleagues in Switzerland enjoyed seeing local photos and wanted him to send more.

He kept in touch with his family in Switzerland and a 1933 letter bears a stamp with a profile photo of president Paul von Hindenburg, second president of Germany from 1925 to 1934.

On the back of a separate envelope, are  several stamps showing where it was opened and resealed at least once when it arrived in Canada.

The reason for that would be Felber’s mail was written in German, and came from Switzerland, which was surrounded by Nazis at that time, so it would be suspicious and would be checked to ensure he wasn’t a spy, said Hewitt.

There are also two  documents for his staking of claims to mineral deposits; one of which was at Kitsumkalum Lake.

It cost $2.50 to stake a claim, and a mining certificate cost $5, which would be $67.50 in 2012 currency, said Hewitt.

One item, which Hewitt isn’t sure is Felber’s but was found near his stuff in storage is a 1960s Super 8 camera, the same brand that was used to film the Kennedy assassination.

“When cameras became available, everyone had to have a camera,” he said, adding that people think that sharing their lives on Twitter and other technology is a new thing but it isn’t.

“People couldn’t wait to document their own lives. People have been wanting to share their lives, document their lives for a long time.”

With all the interesting items, Hewitt limited himself  – he set a boundary of not reading Felber’s personal letters and will not display any of his personal family photos.

Hewitt says he’s a historian and a librarian, but for  this project, his main role is as a librarian, meaning it’s not his job to go through every detail of the man’s life.

“It is my job to ensure it’s preserved,” he said.

However, people who have legitimate research needs and need access to it will be able to see the personal stuff, he added.

For the open house, Hewitt says he’s selected some more “action oriented” items and historically relevant ones to show.

For more details on the Local History: a living narrative open house, see the Community Calendar, page 18.