The village of Cumberland is clearly not a rich place in the monetary sense. Some of its roads are in less than stellar condition, and there is a bit of a time-worn (but nonetheless appealing) look about the commercial core. But the former coal-mining community is rich in something much more important – its history – and in the commitment to honour and preserve it. We discovered just how much Cumberland and her residents revere the village’s past when we decided to do the five self-guided heritage walking tours outlined in brochures distributed by the Cumberland Museum (which in itself is a treasure trove of information and revelation) and the local visitor centre.
We combined the walks, as some of them criss-cross, and ultimately spent somewhere in the neighbourhood of three hours wandering the village streets learning about the area’s old homes, businesses and neighbourhoods. It would be easy to spend an entire day doing this tour if you began with a visit to the museum and if you stopped to read every interpretive sign posted throughout the village, or you can choose to do just one or two of them, at an average of 30 – 45 minutes each You can even partake of a restaurant meal in one of the historic old buildings, pubs or hotels.
Cumberland’s beginnings date way back to the late 1800s, when coal mining and logging were the mainstay industries. The black gold in the ground spawned several underground mines that drew employees from China, Japan, the United States and Europe. We have already documented the final resting places of many of the Oriental miners in an article about the Japanese and Chinese cemeteries. Learning about how and where they lived prior to arriving at the remote burial grounds was an even more engaging experience.
We discovered that while the brochures certainly offered much information there were other structures along our route that had not been included in the printed versions of the walking tours. We were delighted to find small engraved brass plaques in front of many homes that outlined their history, including former tenants and owners. So, a ‘heads up’ here – by all means follow the prescribed routes, but keep your eyes peeled for other treasures along the way that may not be documented in print. We found that it is generally pretty easy to spot the genuine ‘oldies’ during our tramp around the village, although some newer homes built in heritage style caught us out on occasion.
The disparity in the grandeur and style of the homes in the various parts of the village indicates that there most certainly was a class hierarchy. However even the humblest houses built for rental purposes (there were a few private individuals who were obviously the forerunners of today’s ‘developers’) seem to have endured – many of them for more than a century. Dozens of them have been maintained in the traditional style, providing a delight to the eye and fodder for the brain. We often found ourselves wondering about the kind of lives the residents and business owners led, and the brochures added so much to that experience.
The final leg of our journey was along Dunsmuir – then and now the main business district in the village. There are a number of extremely well-done interpretive signs (and more brass plaques!) explaining the history and use of many of the buildings. Most of the structures along Dunsmuir can be appreciated from the inside as well – meals and entertainment are still available at the historic hotels and new businesses inhabit many of the intriguing old edifices, bringing new life and vitality to the village.
Truly, Cumberland’s heritage walking tours make for a few hours well spent. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and take a camera. What worked very well for us was to have one person taking photos while the other read aloud the history of each stop.
As a starting point we recommend the Cumberland Museum and Archives, where you can pick up the aforementioned brochures. It is located at the corner of First Street and Dunsmuir Avenue. Further information on the museum hours and offerings can be obtained at
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.618884857141325 Long. -125.03168821334839
N 49 37.133 W 125 01.901