British Columbia

B.C. gives $1M toward proposed Chinese-Canadian museum

The City of Vancouver is getting a $1 million boost from the B.C. government to support the establishment of a Chinese-Canadian museum, with the goal of creating branches in other communities across the province.

Vancouver museum would be first step in creating branches across the province

The Great Northern Railway's track gang. A proposed Vancouver museum would explore how Chinese-Canadians helped build modern B.C. (Vancouver Public Library Special Collections Historical Photograhs)

The City of Vancouver is getting a $1 million boost from the B.C. government to support the establishment of a Chinese-Canadian museum, with the goal of creating branches in other communities across the province.

This so-called hub-and-spoke model is inspired by feedback from public meetings earlier this year, said Bill Yee, who became the first Chinese-Canadian elected to Vancouver city council in 1982.

Yee is also a member of the working group for the proposed museum and says it's natural to pursue partnerships with municipalities, such as Victoria, where Chinese immigrants first began to arrive in the late 1850s.

"We are hoping that the museum will touch all the areas in the province that in the past have [had] Chinese people," said Yee, noting that Kamloops could be a good place to explain the exploitation of Chinese labourers who helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway.

It would be up to each community that chooses to participate to determine what their local museum branches, or spokes, would look like, said Yee. When that time comes, he said the plan is to hire a professional curator.

Yee hopes this approach could help unite Chinese-Canadians across the province.

"The reality is many Chinese-Canadians are not living around Chinatown anymore, they're all over the place," he said.

The museum would not only explore the past through curated artifacts, stories and educational resources, but also current events and visions of the future for Chinese-Canadians, said Yee.

'An exceptional impact'

It's an opportunity to celebrate the Chinese-Canadians who helped build B.C., Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said on Friday.

"Chinese-Canadians have made an exceptional impact to the social, economic and cultural lives of the province and the city, and we are committed to acting on the opportunities we have to conserve, commemorate and enhance the living heritage and cultural assets of Vancouver's Chinatown for all Canadians," he said at the opening of the proposed museum's new project office.

The office is located in the same Chinatown building as the Chinese-Canadian Military Museum, so Yee said it's likely the provincial 'hub' museum would be established there too.

The museum is also part of a joint effort by the province and Vancouver to have the city's Chinatown designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The museum is part of an effort to have Vancouver's Chinatown designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Evan Mitsui)

Stewart called Chinatown an "incredibly important part of Vancouver's cultural identity," as well as being one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns outside Asia.

Over the past 14 years, various levels of government have taken steps to address racism faced by Chinese immigrants and their descendants.

In 2018, city council formally apologized to the Chinese-Canadian community for historical discrimination, including bans on voting and civic employment, and bylaws that restricted where Chinese residents could own and run businesses.

Three years earlier, then-premier Christy Clark apologized to Chinese-Canadians on behalf of British Columbia for more than 100 racist laws, regulations and policies enacted by previous provincial governments.

The federal government offered an apology in 2006 for a federal fee or head tax that was imposed in Chinese immigrants and included $20,000 in compensation for families or surviving people who paid the tax.

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