But here on the West Coast, I let out the stereotypical Western cry: “What about us?” Explorers (and, let’s not forget, exploiters) patrolled the West. Today I want to present an alternate history; that it was not Europeans who were the first foreigners to set foot on “BC” soil, but possibly the Chinese making their way Eastward centuries earlier. Of course, there is little evidence and most of it is shaky. We’ll need a healthy dose of imagination and a small jade monkey with a story.
The monkey we have upstairs was found under a large fir stump in May 1920. It was likely part of a set of three; its hands-over-mouth, “speak no evil” position suggests that it once had “hear” and “see” counterparts. The monkey in question is mentioned in a much-referenced, if outdated, book The Gibsons Landing Story, by Les Peterson, which is helpful because it provides more detail than we have in our museum exhibit. He notes that the monkey was found under a stump, but that it was found with a bag of coins. The monkey by itself, though curious, could easily be explained away as the trinket of early Finnish settlers on the Coast. A bag of coins, however, is not so easily dismissed. Though we do not have these coins in the museum, nor are we certain of their existence, The Gibsons Landing Story details that Eric Thomson, a boy from Hopkins’ Landing, found coins that had been minted in China around 1300 CE. Coins suggest that the tiny monkey was an item of trade.
This could easily be all myth. These histories are foggy not just with time, but with our cultural understandings and biases. Yet, this small jade monkey helps to remind us that not everything is as it seems and that all histories should be critically analyzed.