‘They Called Her Jennie’ project history talk on April 20

Cathy English will host the talk about Jennie Kiohara, a young Japanese woman who was murdered in Revelstoke in 1905.

They Called Her Jennie is a paper-cut animation created by Sarah Spurr. It tells the tragic story of Jennie Kiohara, a Japanese migrant to the Revelstoke area in the early 1900s. Kiohara was murdered here, and her gravestone stands at Mountain View Cemetery. The work explored her life and the circumstances surrounding her murder, touching on themes of race, gender equality, and historical racism. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

On Wednesday, April 20 at 12 p.m., Revelstoke Museum and Archives curator Cathy English will be delivering a Brown Bag History talk about the life of Jennie Kiohara, a young woman who was among the first wave of Japanese immigrants to arrive in Canada. 

Kiohara was murdered in Revelstoke in 1905, her murder never solved. Her headstone sits in Revelstoke Mountain View Cemetery and work to restore its base is part of the collaborative art project currently underway, its purpose to commemorate and honour Kiohara’s life and experiences.

Sarah Spurr, one of the artists involved in the project, will join English for the talk on Wednesday. An interactive website detailing Kiohara’s story through photos and a visual poem by Spurr was recently launched and is the latest part of the continuing project.

A gravestone in Revelstoke Mountain View Cemetery marks the final resting place for Jennie, a migrant from Japan who was murdered in a violent hate crime in Revelstoke in 1905. Jennie’s story is the focus of a multimedia art collaboration under development. Photo: Sarah j Spurr

The life and history of Jennie Kiohara is significant not only for its own sake, but also because it represents the experience that others like her must have had at the time. English says that the talk will be based on the information they have been able to gather about Kiohara from newspapers and police records, as well as the broader historical context of the area and time period.

“There’s still a lot of her life that remains a mystery. Sometimes when I’m doing a talk, that’s what I have to say. We just don’t know,” English says. “There’s only so much we can glean from the public record. We can put together bits and pieces but we’ll never know the story of her life. We’ll never know the story of her death.”

The Brown Bag History talk will be open to anyone who wants to attend in person, as well as through a live feed on Zoom and afterwards on YouTube. 

The project will continue as work to restore the base of the headstone unfolds, with an unveiling and ceremony planned once it’s restored.

“I’ve always felt it was important to recognize her and to honour her and I want to recognize that she was a victim of crime, probably a victim of sexual abuse and probably a victim of male manipulation,” English says. “I think sometimes the best we can do is just recognize and honour people’s lives.”

Cara Smith is a freelance writer from Fredericton, New Brunswick. After studying English literature at St. Thomas University, Cara began writing for the Telegraph-Journal, the provincial daily newspaper in New Brunswick, then worked as a staff writer for Huddle, an online business news magazine.