British Columbia

UBC collection on B.C. history, immigration added to UNESCO register

The University of British Columbia's Chung Collection, which focuses on B.C. history and immigration, has been recognized by UNESCO.

The Chung Collection, made up of 25,000 items, includes pieces related to the Chinese diaspora

The Chung Collection at the University of British Columbia library includes a significant number of Canadian Pacific Railway Company posters. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A gold pan used by a Chinese settler who came to British Columbia as part of the gold rush. Dinnerware from the Empress of Asia ship, which transported immigrants from Asia to B.C.'s South Coast. A 1926 portrait of a Chinese students football club in Vancouver.

These are just a handful of the 25,000 items that make up the Chung Collection, an assemblage of items and art that focuses on B.C. history and immigration and settlement, including the Chinese diaspora.

Since 1999, the collection has been quietly housed in the rare books and special collections division of the University of British Columbia library, following a donation by Vancouver couple Wallace and Madeline Chung.

Earlier this week, it gained national recognition, when UNESCO added the collection to its Canada Memory of the World Register, which recognizes documents of profound Canadian significance.

"I am astounded every time I encounter a piece of the collection," said Susan Parker, the university librarian at UBC.

"Just being able to preserve this is not enough. What's great is being able to share this with everyone."

A 1926 portrait of the Chinese Students Football Club of Vancouver from 1926 in the Chung Collection. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

UNESCO is perhaps best known for its world heritage sites. But its registers are important to archivists and librarians, allowing obscure collections to reach a global audience.

There are only 16 collections featured in the Canada register, including one other from British Columbia.

Wallace Chung, a retired doctor whose grandfather came from China to Victoria, spent 60 years amassing the thousands of items.

The first item he ever collected: an illustrated poster of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company's steamship, Empress of Asia, which hung in his father's tailor shop in Victoria.

A Chinese head tax certificate in the Chung Collection. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Soon, Chung began collecting small items clipped from newspapers and magazines.

"It's a lifetime passion of his," Parker said. "He told me that his first paycheque as a doctor, he spent most of it on acquiring a document rather than letting it sit in the bank."

Chung would visit the Canadian Pacific Railway office in Vancouver, Parker said, asking for old flyers and pamphlets and grabbing items from the dustbin.

Among the collection's standout items is a four-metre-long replica of the Empress of Asia ship that Chung meticulously restored over several years.

The 14-foot-long Empress of Asia ship model in the Chung Collection. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"He made all the little parts and strung all the little wires," Parker said. "It's an incredible object."

Parker said the Chungs intend to donate more items soon, including rare documents that cover the founding of British Columbia.

The collection is open Monday to Friday, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., with a tour offered every Wednesday.