Memorial to be unveiled for influential Regina restaurateur

A Regina restaurant owner who stood against racially motivated labour laws in the 1920s will be memorialized in the city on Monday.

Family will gather Monday for artwork inauguration

Yee Clun, (far left, bottom row) fought the "white women's labour law" in the 1920s. (submitted by Kristin Enns-Kavanagh)

A Regina restaurant owner who stood against racially motivated labour laws in the 1920s will be memorialized in the city on Monday.

Yee Clun is being featured in The Lost Stories Project by Concordia University which is highlighting little-known stories of Canada's past for the nation's 150th birthday.

As a restaurateur in the 1920s, Yee fought a Saskatchewan provincial law commonly called the "white women's labour law," which barred Asian men from employing white women at their businesses.

Yee applied for a municipal licence to allow him to hire white women  and was rejected, but the city's actions were overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of King's Bench.

Yee's story of courage will be commemorated through a Regina art installation by Xiao Han, a Chinese artist based in Saskatoon. The installation will sit near the Chinese Benevolent Association downtown.

Clun's grandson Clarence Sihoe said his entire extended family will be flying to Regina for the piece's unveiling.

"It's a real honour and at the same time a real surprise," he said.

A family secret

Clun's fight was truly a lost story, according to Sihoe, who explained that no one in the family knew about it until 15 years ago when he began to research the family's history.

A simple Google search of his grandfather's name yielded a book by Constance Backhouse called Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, which has a whole chapter on Clun.

Sihoe said his grandfather never shared the experience with any of his children, including his mother who was not yet born when it happened.

"They were totally unaware of it. They were caught by as much surprise as I was," Sihoe said.

Artist Xiao Han visiting Yee Clun’s family in Vancouver. Over 20 relatives will be in Regina to attend the inauguration of the artwork on Aug. 7, 2017. (Photo by Dan Minsky and Paul Lowey)

In the early 1930s, Sihoe said the family moved back to China when Clun retired.

As one of the few Chinese Canadians to be naturalized in 1925, he maintained ties to Canada and kept ownership of his home in Regina.

With the threat of war in China, Clun brought his family back to Canada in 1941 on one of the last CP ships from Hong Kong.

The family relocated to Vancouver.

The memorial unveiling in Regina will take place at 3 p.m. on Monday. Sihoe said it will be somewhat of a homecoming for his family, including his two aunts, who are now 94 and 88.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend