The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center soon bids farewell to a yearlong exhibit, “A Community Forgotten: Uncovering the Story of The Dalles Chinatown.”
Before it goes, the Discovery Center will host “Chinese Puzzles,” a dinner and presentation Jan. 12 featuring author and curator Marilyn Urness on her experience investigating The Dalles’ largely forgotten Chinese community.
The dinner will start at 6 p.m. at the Discovery Center on Friday Jan. 12, with the presentation to follow at 7 p.m. Reservations must be made by Jan. 10. Tickets for both dinner and presentation are $19, and tickets for the presentation alone are $5.
Urness’ experience with Chinese history in The Dalles started when a small cosmetic oil bottle was uncovered during the expansion of her husband’s auto dealership and determined to be over a century old. Since that discovery, Urness has amassed a collection of Chinese artifacts and has written a book, “Chinatown,” about her knowledge and findings.
Urness’ program will be similar to one she gave at the Discovery Center back in 2014, with added insight into rumors of tunnels found under the city, the stories of a Chinese farmer who in the 1940’s lived where Goodwill is now and a Chinese woman who won her claim in The Dalles City in a court case.
“A Community Forgotten,” the exhibit showcasing the history of The Dalles’ Chinatown, opened on Jan. 28, 2017 and will close sometime this February to make room for upcoming exhibits in March and June.
Alongside Urness, fellow curators Kelly Molina, Jacqui Cheung, Rick McClure and Eric Gleason, as well as exhibit designers Chris Bolton and Kathy Purcell, had a large part in bringing the exhibit together.
“It seemed like the right time to do it,” Gleason said, referencing the current spotlight on immigration issues.
The exhibit displays artifacts from the late 19th century, when many Chinese immigrants came to The Dalles following the Gold Rush and the beginning of railroad expansion. At the time, many companies, including Seufert’s Cannery, wanted to hire Chinese laborers because they were believed to have a reputable work ethic.
The exhibit was received well throughout the year, marketing director Susan Buce said. There is “a lot of interest in the Chinese history in The Dalles,” she said, “not only to folks in The Dalles but to travelling public as well.”
A lot of this interest comes from the excavation of The Dalles’ Chinatown at 210 East First Street, the home of several Chinatown merchandise stores from the 1850’s to the 1920’s. The site yielded a plethora of artifacts that became part of the Discovery Center exhibit, including gambling pieces, food remains, part of a music box, Chinese coins and broken bottle pieces.
Contributed items such as Urness’ personal collection, items on loan from the Fort Dalles Museum and a wok from Seufert’s Cannery are also on display.
The history of The Dalles’ Chinese community is wrought with struggle and racism; but also includes some acceptance, said Gleason, who is also an archaeologist who took part in the excavations on First Street. “It’s a more nuanced story than people think of generally.”
The exhibit also contains documents and printed information collected from archives and old newspaper articles, which document stories from community members and discriminatory laws used for racial exclusion.
Gleason hopes that the personal stories, printed and displayed on banners, along with some of the recovered artifacts, will be redisplayed at the excavated building on First Street after the Discovery Center exhibit closes.
When the exhibit closes, the contributed and loaned items will go back to their owners. Half of the archeological material is already curated by the museum and will be moved to storage, while the rest will be given to OSU for grad students to use.
Looking forward, the Discovery Center welcomes “Painting Oregon’s Harvest,” an exhibit featuring a series of paintings by Kathy Beggendorger, which opens to the public March 17 and will run until June, when the Discovery Center will house an exhibit on early Oregon mail delivery systems.
For more information on “Chinese Puzzles: “A Community Forgotten” and upcoming exhibits, call the Discovery Center at 541-296-8600 x201 or visit www.gorgediscovery.org.
The Dalles Discovery Center is located at 5000 Discovery Drive and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.