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Anthology celebrating prominent Chinese-Canadians in B.C. acknowledges historic wrongs

Celebration: Chinese Canadian Legacies in British Columbia acknowledges the painful history in its profiles of 96 people from the Chinese community who have made significant contributions to the province in medicine, science, athletics, philanthropy and more.

The legacy project is a part of the province's Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation & Recommendations report

Chinese workers stand for a photo on the Canadian Pacific Railway. The book includes photos and stories that acknowledge the achievements and contributions of Chinese-Canadians in B.C., both past and present. (BC Archives D-07548)

As part of the province's apology for historic wrongs against Chinese Canadians, a new book is celebrating the accomplishments of B.C. residents of Chinese descent.

Celebration: Chinese Canadian Legacies in British Columbia acknowledges the painful history in its profiles of 96 people from the Chinese community who have made significant contributions to the province in medicine, science, athletics, philanthropy and more.

"An apology is about acknowledgement of the past and, by doing that, an ability for us to then have a common future together, where we can work together and recognize we have this common past that included this history of white supremacy and racism," said Henry Yu, an associate professor of history at UBC and one of the people featured in the book.

The province announced $1milion in funding to support legacy projects outlined in the Chinese Historical Wrongs Final Report in 2014.

One of those legacy projects was the celebration book which, after a consultation process with a legacy initiative advisory council, revealed the importance of recognizing the diverse contributions made by Chinese British Columbians — past and present — to the communities they are part of today.

Family in front of Wah Chong Washing and Ironing, 1895. (City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 178-2.8.)

"It both has these stories of triumph and overcoming for many of these people … But like a picture you need to understand the framework to actually understand how remarkable some of these peoples achievements were," Yu told All Points West's Jason D'Sousa.

"That framework … was the longer history of anti-Chinese racism and how that created obstacles."

In April, the City of Vancouver made a separate acknowledgement of past legislation, regulations and policies that discriminated against Chinese Canadians.

Historical wrongs addressed by the apology include Chinese residents being denied basic human rights, the right to own property and to choose which neighbourhood they wanted to live in.

Dr Henry Yu is one of the people featured in Celebration: Chinese Canadian Legacies in British Columbia. He is an associate professor of history at UBC and a board member of the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia. (Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture)

Chinese immigrants were also denied the right to vote and to hold public office. They were restricted to working in dangerous and undesirable jobs, and they couldn't freely pursue an education, according to the provincial government.

"What was done to them, it was dark and terrible, but they helped forge a better province and a better society. They forced us, in some sense, to live up to the ideals of a fair society," he said.

Yip Sang played a significant role in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway before becoming a major community leader and entrepreneur in Vancouver where he started the import and export Wing Sang Company, located at 51 Pender Street. (City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 689-54.)

The book was released Friday and will be available at public libraries and school districts throughout the province in the fall of 2018.

To hear the full interview and Henry Yu's favourite inspirational story listen to audio below:

Celebration: Chinese Canadian Legacies in British Columbia acknowledges the painful history in its profiles of 96 people from the Chinese community who have made significant contributions to the province in medicine, science, athletics, philanthropy and more. 7:38

With files from All Points West