Pioneering Saskatchewan restaurateur featured in sesquecentennial Lost Stories Project

Kristin Enns-Kavanagh, executive director of the Saskatchewan History and Fokllore Society, spoke with CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend about Yee Clun, a Chinese business owner who fought the law and won in the 1920s.

Restaurant owner Yee Clun fought provincial law regulating the hiring of white women in 1920s

Yee Clun (bottom row far left, holding a child) fought the White Women's Labour Law in the 1920s. His story will be told as part of the Lost Stories Project. (submitted by Kristin Enns-Kavanagh)

The story of Yee Clun, a Regina restaurant owner who challenged a race-based law in the 1920s, will be featured in a project highlighting little-known stories of Canada's past for the nation's 150th birthday.

The Lost Stories Project will shed light on four stories from across the country which are not well-known, including Yee Clun's.

Kristin Enns-Kavanagh, executive director of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society, has been helping co-ordinate the project from Saskatoon. She told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend Yee's story is one of courage and perseverance.

Yee's story will be commemorated through an art installation by artist Xiao Han, a Chinese artist based in Saskatoon. (Supplied by Kristin Enns-Kavanagh )

As a Regina restaurant owner in the 1920s, Yee fought a provincial law regulating how businesses owned by Asian-Canadians could hire Caucasian women. What was commonly called the "white women's labour law" barred Asian men from employing white women in businesses such as restaurants, according to the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan website.

Yee applied for a municipal licence to allow him to hire white women and was turned down, but the decision was overturned when he took it to court, Enns-Kavanagh said. 

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

"It's also a story about the history of racism in Saskatchewan," Enns-Kavanagh said. 

"And that provides a place for us to talk a bit about what is the history of racism and how does that effect us still today in an ongoing way, and what can we do to kind of move toward from that together." 

She said the story is also about justice.

"It's really important we understand these dark parts of our history because we are all together here now."

The project is looking for a filmmaker to document how Yee's story is turned into a piece of art.

"We're sort of talking about legacies for the project that go far beyond the actual piece of art and the actual film," Enns-Kavanagh said.

More information can be found on the society's website

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend