Ben Bryce, assistant professor of history at UNBC, traveled with 10 students from Prince George for an experiential learning course in the history of fisheries.

Ben Bryce, assistant professor of history at UNBC, traveled with 10 students from Prince George for an experiential learning course in the history of fisheries.

Prince Rupert and Port Edward anchor point for UNBC history course

University of Northern British Columbia students are studying the history of fishing and canneries

Prince Rupert and Port Edward are sites for experiential learning for history students at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Over the long weekend, nine fourth-year history students and one master’s student came down from Prince George to explore the history of fishing in northern B.C over the course of five days, with the North Pacific Cannery as the anchor point of their work.

“The idea is to take the classroom to other parts of northern B.C. and engage with communities and try to have an impact. Because UNBC is in the North for the North,” said Benjamin Bryce, assistant professor of history at UNBC, who is also leading the course.

Part of the experience included an oral history round table with Gladys Blyth, a prominent author in Prince Rupert who published the books A History of Port Edward (1970), Summer at the Cannery (2005), among many others.

Cecily Moore and Clarence Nelson also shared stories about what it meant to be a kid in the canneries in the 1960s, everyday life and entertainment, and the cultural importance they had for Metlakatla and the nine tribes of Tsimshian.

Prince Rupert author Gladys Blyth (right) along with Cecile Moore, and Clarence Nelson (left) speaking at an oral history roundtable to students from UNBC who came down to Rupert for an experiential history course in fishing and cannery life. Nelson is speaking to the students about the cultural effects the canneries had on Metlakatla, such as the silver band musical groups. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

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Bryce said oral history, sharing one’s stories about their past and memories, has been a central part of history material collected for the past 30 years in the field.

“Government reports could deliberately or not deliberately omit all sorts of information, newspapers can be written with bias and oral history has issues with memory. So the goal is to balance all important sources and think critically about the problems of each kind.”

This is only the second time UNBC has come to Prince Rupert to get hands-on experience in the field of history, the first being in 2017.

Students also spent the week at the archives and the library researching topics some of which included the discrimination Japanese-Canadian fishermen experienced in the 1920s and 30s, the creation of Metlakatla and the role of missionaries in the community, fish tagging and government efforts to monitor and control the fisheries.

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Bryce has thrown out the 20-page final paper and instead students will produce podcasts, blogs, revising Wikipedia articles and creating mock exhibits to increase public engagement with local history.

While tidbits of experiential learning have always been incorporated into history courses, Bryce said the concept of having fully immersive courses has only been seen in the past 10-15 years.

“It’s about engaging with the community and getting into the question of public history in which you don’t just do history for academia, but also with the goal of having an impact on public knowledge,” Bryce said,

Students also heard from Michael Gurney, chair of the BC Historical Federation, about challenges and goals of heritage sites from a board perspective and how the North Pacific Cannery grapples with its multiple identities.

“A National Historic Site is not just a sort of a neutral history book. It is a destination for people to learn but also to experience and enjoy. It’s a fine line between a tourist experience and an educational experience,” Bryce said.

In order to learn how to make history more accessible and digestible to the public, the students ended the week by giving themselves a guided tour of the cannery where every person presented on a different topic.

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