A Nakusp author’s book has been recognized at the annual Lieutenant Governor’s Historical Writing Awards.
The British Columbia Historical Federation (BCHF), which hosts the awards every year, announced that Kyle Kusch has been given the community history award for his book Our Coloured Past: The Arrow Lakes in the Age of Colour Photography. The award comes with a $500 cheque.
Winners of the competition were meant to be announced at an event in Surrey in June. However, the event was cancelled due to COVID-19 and the BCHF decided to announce the winners early.
Kusch’s book, published last year, showcases 350 colour photographs of the Arrow Lakes and Upper Lardeau regions from 1940 to the present, taken from the Arrow Lakes Historical Society collection. Through the pages, Kusch illustrates the massive changes the Hugh Keenleyside dam had on the region as it flooded historical townsites like Burton, Fauquier, and Edgewood.
Kusch, the historical society’s longtime archives technician, said winning the prize was a “strange, humbling feeling.”
“The book was simply a fun project meant as a coffee table book fundraiser for the society; a way to display some of the awesome imagery in our photographic collection,” he said. “I certainly never anticipated that it would be nominated for major awards, let alone be deemed worthy of winning one.”
Kusch said he doesn’t consider himself an historian, but is “deeply invested” in the part of the world where he was born and raised.
“The love and appreciation I have for the Arrow Lakes made this an incredibly fun book to put together. Getting to work with this photo collection every day is like a four-year-old being paid to play in a sandbox all days with their favourite toys.”
Our Coloured Past started as a slideshow Kusch put together in 2014 to encourage more people to visit the archives and view some rarely-seen items from the collection. The response was strong enough — and the collection large enough — that it wound up being turned into three separate 90-minute shows that had multiple showings and a compilation DVD.
“I think people responded to the fact that recent, local history that took place within their own lifetimes was being portrayed as valuable and meaningful,” Kusch said.
“As important as our previous publications are from a documentation standpoint, the society had written enough 350-page, 150,000 word monoliths; it was time to go in a different, more visual direction, and a book full of vibrant colour photographs was a perfect solution.“
Kusch said he let the photos write the story. He went through the entire photo collection over three days and shortlisted about 400 colour images that he found interesting, then trimmed the final selection down to 350 so they would fit in a 240-page book. He placed them in chronological order and wrote captions for each.
Kusch said he wasn’t necessarily intending to connect the photos to one another, but it happened naturally as he kept writing and the connections became obvious: “Landscapes form people, people in turn reform landscapes, and so on.”
He thanked the historical society for giving him the freedom to work on the project, saying he appreciated their trust and hoped he had paid it back. He added longtime society past president Rosemarie Parent insisted the book be submitted for the award, even though he doubted it would win.
It’s the second straight year that one of the society’s coffee table books has won the award. Last year, the prize went to Bruce Rohn’s SS Minto: The Arrow Lakes’ Longest Serving Sternwheeler. Kusch was heavily involved in designing that book as well.
Also in this year’s competition, Michael Layland won the Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing for his book In Nature’s Realm: Early Naturalists Explore Vancouver Island. The late Milton Parent, Rosemarie’s husband and another past Arrow Lakes Historical Society president, won the same award for 2001’s Circle of Silver.
The awards celebrate iconic publications from the previous year that contributed to the historical literature of BC.