Course:ARST575K/LIBR539H/Cumberland Museum & Archives

From UBC Wiki

The Cumberland Museum & Archives, located in Cumberland, British Columbia, Canada, is a combined museum and archives for the village of Cumberland on Vancouver Island. The Museum and Archives also contain material and exhibits of Chinese and Japanese settlers in Cumberland.

Cumberland Museum & Archives
Address: 2680 Dunsmuir Avenue
Cumberland, BC
Building: Cumberland Museum & Archives
Hours: Currently closed for renovations
October 1 2020 - Spring 2021
Phone: 1-250-336-2445

Background and History


The Cumberland Museum & Archives was formed in 1981 and is run by the Cumberland & District Historical Society, and is a repository and archives for artefacts for the "rich history of the Village of Cumberland, which was established as a coal mining camp in 1888".[1] The Museum and Archives acquire artifacts, archives, and historical reference material "pertaining to Cumberland and the surrounding area, including Union Bay, Bevan, Royston, and Comox Lake".[2] The Museum and Archives "tells the story of the people of Cumberland — the rich, the poor, the powerful, the rebellious, the righteous and the radical"[3] through its exhibits and collections, which "explore important, social, political, economic and environmental themes that reflect the museum’s understanding and representation of Cumberland’s rich history."[3]The Museum and Archives strives to showcase the unique and diverse history of Cumberland as well as its heritage as an early coal mining town.[3]


The village of Cumberland is steeped in history; "once Canada’s smallest westernmost city, Cumberland was a bustling coal mining community from 1889 to 1966 with miner’s entrepreneurs and their families streaming in from across Canada, the US, Europe, China, and Japan."[4] "Founded in 1889 by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, Cumberland’s original settlement was named Union after the Union Coal Company. In 1898, the post office address of Union was changed to Cumberland and many of the town’s streets are named after the famous English coal mining district of Cumberland, England. The area was also home to the fifth largest Chinese settlement in British Columbia as well as a small Black Community and three Japanese settlements at #1 Town, Royston Sawmill and #5 Town."[4] Cumberland remained an active coal mining town until 1966, shipping coal worldwide, until the coal industry declined and the population decreased, choosing to pursue other industries on the island such as logging and fishing.[4] Descendants of Cumberland's residents recount the history and memory of the Village: tales of the "coal mining, logging, multicultural, political, business, and labour history of the Village"[4] are recounted, keeping the stories alive. [4]


Coal Creek Heritage Park

The Coal Creek Heritage Park is a municipal park formerly the site of Cumberland’s Chinatown and #1 Japanese Town site; "this natural area was once home to Cumberland’s bustling Chinatown (at the east end) and Japanese #1 Town site (at the west end). The park is linked by a lush wetland and old Wellington Colliery Rail bed. The park is home to the last remaining structures from Cumberland’s Chinatown –Jumbo’s Cabin, a new picnic pavilion, walking trails, a new Cherry Tree orchard to mark the #1 Japanese Town site, and 2 private residences".[5] The park also contains informational signs regarding the Chinese and Japanese history in Cumberland, detailing the history, buildings, and stories of residents that used to live there.[5]

Chinese, Japanese and Cumberland Cemeteries

Cumberland also contains the Chinese, Japanese, and Cumberland Cemeteries: "East of the village on Union Road you’ll find the Japanese-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian cemeteries. The Japanese-Canadian cemetery was senselessly destroyed by vandals in the 1940’s"[6] but is now respectfully tended to.


Museum Archives

The Archives stitch together a vibrant visual of Cumberland’s past, currently housing a vast collection of photographs that bring the story of Cumberland to life; these photographs include glimpses into Chinatown, Japanese Town, heritage homes, family photos, historical sites, mining and logging industries and much more. Our photo collection has been digitized and is available for viewing on the Museum and Archives website.[7] The Archives also house "a significant collection of records and newspapers specific to mining, local schools, families, businesses, and the historic Cumberland Hospital"[7]

Community Research Room

The Museum and Archives also hosts a Community Research Room, where for the price of admission, a patron can access a wealth of material, such as "books and records on mining, labour history, houses, family genealogy, biographies, schools, cultural communities, businesses,  events, and much more".[8] Forms include a book reference list[9] as well as a filing cabinet index for easier reference.[10]

Photo Collection

A large collection of photographs are available for viewing online, hosted on the Archives' flickr page.[11]

Interviews and Historical Newspapers

In partnership with the University of British Columbia, the Cumberland Museum & Archives also makes available a selection of historical newspapers for viewing online: The Cumberland News and Cumberland Islander[12]. Through the Vancouver Island University Coal Tyee History Project Collection, interviews on the history of Cumberland are made available for access online; audio interviews are hosted alongside a transcript of the interview.[12]

Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project

The Cumberland Museum and Archives, with the Nanaimo Museum, were chosen as "a pilot museum to work with partners to produce an integrated and publicly accessible online database of Chinese Canadian artifacts and archives held by museums on Vancouver Island and the mainland: the Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project (CCAP)"[13]. The CCAP grew out of the "Chinese Canadian Legacy Initiative, a program of provincial projects to commemorate the historical contributions of Chinese Canadians."[13] Over 6000 Chinese Canadian artefacts held by 16 local and regional museums throughout BC are brought together by the CCAP and made searchable and accessible in a single database.[14] Interested researchers, as well as the general public, including descendants, can "virtually enter these participating museums and discover much about the everyday lives of early Chinese Canadians – their resilience in the face of over a century of racist exclusions, their work and family life from decades past, and their ongoing community contributions. Whether searching family genealogies, investigating Chinese Canadian history, or looking for Qing-era pottery, CCAP opens new pathways into the past and present."[14] The Cumberland Museum & Archives contribution to CCAP includes "over 1,200 digitized items from [their] vast collection of artifacts and archives from, or related to, Cumberland Chinatown, including scrolls, ceramics, textiles, bottles, pipes, games, letters, photographs, newspaper articles, books, medicines and more."[13] Through their participation in this project, he Cumberland Museum and Archives is excited that "an important piece of Cumberland’s history, Chinese-Canadian history, will now be widely accessible for researchers, descendants of Cumberland’s Chinatown and the general public"[13], sharing conversation and knowledge around Cumberland Chinatown and encouraging further discourse.[13]

The CCAP is supported by the B.C. Museums Association, and its partners include 16 local and regional museums in British Columbia; it was originated out of "as a Chinese Canadian Legacy Initiative project, one of several B.C. government projects to commemorate the historical contributions of Chinese Canadians to the province, and are part of an official apology offered by the B.C. provincial government in 2014 for historical wrongs directed towards Chinese Canadians."[14]


The Cumberland Museum and Archives hosts many events, such as fairs and festivals, and historical tours. Some of the past events include:

Chinatown Walking Tour

A guided walking tour of Cumberland's historic Chinatown, intriguing visitors with tales and history of Chinese settlers in Cumberland: "Loneliness. Danger. A quest for a better life. Jumbo’s cabin is all that is left standing from Cumberland’s once-bustling Chinatown, but the wetlands hold tales of murder, intrigue and triumph. Learn the fascinating history of the Chinese people who came to work in the Dunsmuir coal mines and left a lasting legacy."[15]

History of Japanese Canadian Pioneers in Cumberland Guided Walking Tour

A guided walking tour of the former No.1 Town, the site of the former Japanese community in Cumberland, with local historian Dawn Copeman discussing her current work with the families and their descendants of Cumberland’s past Japanese community: "Thirty-one cherry trees commemorate the last families to live at No.1 Town. Some old cement pillars are all that is left of this once bustling Japanese Canadian community. They came with their families to settle and work in the Dunsmuir coal mines, but unsafe working conditions and poor pay created challenges and opportunities to thrive. Forcible removal in 1942 changed the fabric of Cumberland forever."[16]


The Cumberland Museum & Archives also hosts a blog for locals to share stories about the history of the community, entitled Digging Deeper.[17]

Some notable posts include:

Close to my heart | Part One

A retrospective on the Chinese Community in Cumberland, this blog post details the stories of families that lived in Chinatown.[18]

Close to my heart | Part Two

A retrospective on the Japanese Community in Cumberland, this blog post details the history of Japanese settlers in Cumberland, who were forcefully evicted in 1942.[19]


The Cumberland Museum & Archives is a wonderful example of a community archive that embraces and acknowledges its diverse history: what is important is that "the control over the description and access to the records, [is] in the hands of community members that understand who we are and what we need."[20] Through its projects, tours, and blog, the Museum & Archives seeks to share the story of the history, both the good and the bad of Cumberland, and keep the stories and memory alive: "Heritage and identity are not automatically ‘good’ unencumbered ideas or realities, as has already been noted they can be constructed in narrow ways which exclude, which seek to reflect some rather than all."[21] The partnerships between the Cumberland Museum & Archives with local institutions allow for greater access to support and materials. With a large focus on Chinese and Japanese stories and history in Cumberland, recognizing the contributions and impact of these settlers, the Museum & Archives seeks the inclusions of these marginalized groups and incorporate them in the discourse of the institution, "pushing back to dominant forms of representation and exclusion that symbolically annihilate marginalized groups."[22]


  1. "Cumberland & District Historical Society".
  2. "MemoryBC - Cumberland Museum and Archives".
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Welcome to the Cumberland Museum & Archives".
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "About Cumberland".
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Coal Creek Heritage Park".
  6. "Chinese, Japanese and Cumberland Cemeteries".
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Museum Archives".
  8. "Community Research Room".
  9. "Book Reference List for Community Research" (PDF).
  10. "Research Room File Index" (PDF).
  11. "Photo Collection".
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Research Links – Interviews and Historical Newspapers".
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 "Cumberland Museum and Archives - Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project".
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project".
  15. "Chinatown Walking Tour".
  16. "History of Japanese Canadian Pioneers in Cumberland Guided Walking Tour".
  17. "Blog - Digging Deeper".
  18. "Close to my heart | Part One".
  19. "Close To My Heart | Part Two".
  20. Zavala, J., Migoni, A. A., Caswell, M., Geraci, N., & Cifor, M. (2017). "'A process where we're all at the table': Community archives challenging dominant modes of archival practice". Archives and Manuscripts. 45(3): 202–215.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. Flinn, A., Stevens, M., & Shepherd, E. (2009). "Whose memories, whose archives? independent community archives, autonomy and the mainstream". Archival Science. 9(1): 71–86.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. Caswell, M., Migoni, A. A., Geraci, N., & Cifor, M. (2017). "'To Be Able to Imagine Otherwise': community archives and the importance of representation". Archives and Records. 38(1): 5–26.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)