For 40 years, the Creston Refugee Committee has been sponsoring families from diverse cultures to come to Canada and live in Creston. On June 27 refugee families past and present travelled to Creston to celebrate Multiculturalism Day at the Creston Museum.
Former Creston resident and one of the founding members of the Creston Refugee Committee Felicity Klassen travelled to Creston to share her memories of the first family to come to Creston and talk about the history of Creston Refugee Committee.
Below is an abridged version of Klassen’s speech:
First, I would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional land of the Ktunaxa people and thank them for sharing their land. The Ktunaxa Ksanka have lived in this valley for thousands of years, and we are grateful that the Ktunaxa people and all Canadians are able to welcome people from far away to the Creston Valley.
It is a thrill to be here and be part of Creston’s celebration of 40 years of sponsoring people to come to Canada. Wow!
What an accomplishment. What a difference this has made for people that came from far off lands. What a difference for the Creston Valley. What a difference for Canada.
I am going to talk about how sponsorship began in 1978 and about some of the first families that came to safety in this beautiful valley and how the kindness and support of the local people and the peacefulness of the Creston Valley helped them heal from past trauma and learn Canadian customs. I have been permitted to use names and quotes for this speech.
In 1978 Bernie Grifford, the federal government’s representative in Creston placed a small announcement in the local Creston Valley Advance newspaper for a meeting for anyone interested in sponsoring refugees. Initially, Don Morris (Morris Flowers) and I met with Bernie. At following meetings, we were joined by Gwen Nickish, Pat Doyle, Rosalie Harris, and Karen Arrowsmith. At the time, there was a lot of media coverage about the “boat people” fleeing the war in Vietnam.
We decided to sponsor a refugee family from Vietnam we didn’t know how, we didn’t know when, and we didn’t know how to raise the money needed, but we knew it was the right thing to do and we would succeed. We decided to sponsor a large family to our valley.
Under the guidance of Bernie, five of us, Don Morris, Rosalie Harris, Karen Arrowsmith, Gwen Nickisch and I signed the necessary papers to sponsor Mong Hong and Sap Che Lau and their five children and Sap Che’s son Hehn and his wife Mui and their three children. Five Canadian families were responsible for providing twelve newcomers with food, shelter, education and support for twelve months in Creston.
With little knowledge, we raised money, rented and furnished a house and prepared the best we could. Knowing that Lau’s’ were oriental, I went to Faye Wong at Sun Kees farm to get advice about what kind of food to have in the new home. I am going to talk more about the first family that came later.
After the first sponsorship, we formed the Creston Refugee Committee so we could access the United Church Refugee Federal Sponsoring Program. Gwen and I were United Church members; the church had given our group a room to meet in and many members were supportive, so it seemed a logical decision. Over the years, other local people joined our small initial group.
I will talk about the very first family that Creston sponsored. Sap Che Lau and her family were the first refugee family to come to Creston. She would be very proud of her children and grandchildren as they have become Canadians and are contributing to Canada. Among these decedents, there is an architect, a doctor, a mechanic, a forester, a pharmacist the list goes on.
When Sap Che lived in Creston she had a large garden. She got a business licence from the town and figured out where was the busiest place in Creston. She saw that many people went to the Post Office every day so she started selling her vegetables on the United Church lawn beside the Post Office. Every morning she would drag her vegetable-filled cart, along the streets, across the railway tracks, and up the hill to the church lawn. Everything was $1 “one dollar”. One evening I had to phone her. Her teenage son Sang who spoke English answered. I said, “Sang tell your mother that the church people are complaining that her business is too big”. Twenty minutes later Sang phoned back. “My mother wants to know if it is too much money or too much property?” I replied “Too much property. ” The next day Sap Che decreased the size of her vegetable display and gave the church $100! She was an astute businesswoman!
Unfortunately, Sap Che died in 1987. There was a huge crowd at her funeral that was held in the United Church hall. Later her family placed a large ad in the Advance newspaper thanking individuals and the people of the Creston Valley for their generosity. There was also this and I quote” “Sy Khai Cho, the Chinese priest who officiated at Sap Che funeral in 1987, had travelled extensively and stated he had never experienced a community working in such harmony with members of an unfamiliar faith. Sy Khai was so impressed by the reverence and tolerance he encountered in our small community that he plans to relate his experiences in Creston to his peers in China when he attends a meeting there in November. “
Sap Che’s son Hehn told me two things about his mother. The first was her affiliation with Creston. Hehn said that in their culture they believe their spirit springs from where they are born and his mother had two places: a town in Canton Province in China and Creston, B.C. Canada.
The second thing Hehn told me was that Sap Che had a desire to become a good citizen of Creston so that the people of the Creston Valley would sponsor more refugees. Sap Che Lau’s example and spirit have inspired the Creston Refugee Committee to help many new families to this magnificent valley.
So I thank Sap Che Lau’s for her courage and the Creston Refugee Committee for its commitment for all the sponsorships to Creston.
What a difference this has made for people that came from far off lands!
What a difference for the Creston Valley!