Jim Cooperman is a curious man.
He is also an author, historian, columnist, environmentalist and avid skier. So when a son’s friend sent him a link to ARCA, an online platform developed by BC Regional Digitalized History, he entered Shuswap into the search bar.
To his surprise and delight, a number of photos appeared, most of them belonging to two albums by Erskine Burnett called The Shuswap Country and B.C.’s Inland Empire held by the Enderby and District Museum and Archives.
Upon further investigation, Cooperman learned the photos taken in the 1930s and ‘40s were accompanied by “intriguing” text.
“Most local history is pre-settlement or settlement, so anything later like the 1930s has been ignored,” he said of the late author’s travelogues that combined descriptions of places and geographic features, with stories about people, including many early settlers. “I was blown away and very impressed with the writing. It was very funny, I was laughing out loud.”
Thoroughly intrigued by what he read, Cooperman became determined to bring the little known archival scrapbook to today’s public in the form of a book.
Unable to find much information in B.C. museums, he was grateful to curator/archivists Deborah Chapman, with the Salmon Arm Museum, and Joan Cowan, at the Enderby and District Museum and Archives, who did some digging of their own and connected him with Burnett’s son Gerry Parkinson, who provided more details about his grandfather’s fascinating heritage and fruit business.
Burnett produced his albums by typing the text using carbon copies that he then painstakingly cut and pasted onto pages.
One of the reservations Cooperman has about Burnett’s writing is that it not only ignored the fact he was on the unceded territory of the Secwépemc people and the Indigenous stories, he made racist comments about them and immigrants.
In a thoroughly modern approach, a neighbour transcribed the original text onto a computer for Cooperman, who wrote an introduction to the book and began the editing process in which he removed Burnett’s racist comments.
Salmon Arm artist Otto Pfannschmidt, who is designing the book, rescanned and photoshopped the photos.
While he describes the process of producing the book a chore, Cooperman says the effort has been rewarding.
“So many people are interested in history,” he said. “It deepens our understanding of our home place, and the more we know about it, the more we’ll appreciate it and care for it.”
Cooperman is grateful to the organizations and businesses who have provided financial support, and expects The Shuswap Country about the life and travels of pioneer Erskine Burnett to be available within a month or two.
He invites anyone who is interested in being a sponsor to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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