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Tide Water Tales: Where History and Fiction Meet

Over the past few months, ARTCi has been engaging the public in a series of historical workshops where they have had the opportunity to research the many people who made up the fishing and shipbuilding community along the shores of the Fraser River in Steveston, particularly those who worked on and around what was known as Britannia Shipyards.

The youngest participant was twelve and the oldest was in their eighties. One volunteer, Joanna Chaplow, was so excited about the project and the opportunity to perform, that she spent some time in the Richmond Archives, looking for a character that would be suitable for her to perform. This was more difficult than it seemed as many of the photos and stories preserved in the archives, other than some of the canning stories, feature the men who worked on site, as women at the time took care of and oversaw jobs related to the home and were not documented in the same manner. It was challenging to find diaries letters and accounts that had been written by the women who helped to pioneer the industries and community behind Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site.

Joanna found one and dove right in. She discovered the heartwarming story of Maggie Quinn’s Ice Cream Parlour. All that was recorded was that lessons occurred at Maggie Quinn’s Ice Cream Parlour located on 2nd Avenue in Steveston, in the early 1900’s. She let lessons happen at the parlour because the new Steveston School, at the corner of Number 2 Road and Number 9 Road (now Steveston Highway), was over a mile’s walk for the children. Many of the parents felt it was too far away. Her ice cream parlour was located just down from the Hepworth Building. Additional lessons took place in other available areas closer to home such as in the Post Office, the Opera House and in several private homes.

Joanna extended the story with some fictional details of her own and performed the character of Maggie Quinn, along with our twelve-year-old volunteer, Lily, who played Mary London, a farm girl who helped to make ice cream in the shop. Below is the fictional account that Joanna added to the factual information that she unearthed and composed about Maggie Quinn who lived in Steveston in 1900.

Joanne as Mrs. Quinn and Lily as Mary London. Photo by Lori Sherritt-Fleming.

“Maggie was married to a merchant. He loved her dearly, but they could not have children of their own. So, he opened up a local ice cream parlour, and named it after his dear wife, so that all the neighbourhood kids would remember her name. Mr. Quinn understood that not having children broke his dear wife’s heart. At the ice cream parlour all of the neighbourhood kids would wander close to the shop. It gave her immense joy to hear their songs and to listen to their games, and laughter. So, when one of her dear friends, Virgie English, inquired about using the ice cream parlour as a makeshift school, Maggie jumped at the chance! Many of the village parents didn’t want their kids to have to walk all the way to the new school. And, the Post Office, near Virgie’s Dad’s Phoenix Cannery, was getting overcrowded.

Some of the regular attendees included Earl Mc Ehinney, Flora McDonald, Mabel Branscombe, Jeanie and Bob Blair, Mary London, and Walter Steves. You may recognize some of these names!

But here’s something you may not know too well. Maggie Quinn’s heart knew no cultural boundaries. She loved all children. And, once more, she believed that all kids deserved an education. She devised a scheme that fed her beliefs. Every so often, she declared she had a refrigeration problem. She went to the canneries to collect Native and Japanese kids to help eat the ice cream before it spoiled. While they ate their special treat outside the back of her parlour, she kept the back door wide open. Ms. English’s lessons happened to be going on at the same time. Coincidence? Maybe?

Sharing some of Mrs. Quinn's ice cream. Photo by Kate Gao,

Her character also serves to remind us, that dairy and berries were also important in the making of early Steveston.

Meet “Maggie” and other historical characters, make your mark on the scroll installation and view the premiere of the Tide Water Tales video at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site during Canada Culture Days, September 29th and 30th. ARTCi will be on site between 12 and 4 pm both days. The Artists Rendering Tales Collective Inc. artist residency at Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site is in partnership with Richmond Public Art.

Volunteer actors demonstrate life on a canning line. Photo by Kate Gao.

For more information visit:

or visit the Canada Culture Days website at and search for Tide Water Tales: River Culture in Art, Drama and Video.

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