Written by: Gurpreet Kambo, Peak Associate
The provincial government has announced $10 million of funding to be put toward the development of a new museum dedicated to documenting the history of the Chinese-Canadian Community in BC. The museum will include multiple physical locations across the province, with the main hub in Chinatown, as well as an online portal.
“We’ve been working closely with the community for years and it has told us how important this museum is for everyone in BC. We are at a critical point when it comes to conversations about race, inequality and injustice in this province. Now is the time to come together to share the stories about how our province got to where it is — and to have conversations about where we want it to go,” said Premier John Horgan in a press release.
Chair of the Chinese Canadian Museum Society Grace Wong told The Peak in an interview, “We’ve heard from so many people that it’s a really meaningful idea [ . . . ] It certainly resonated with me in terms of the importance of having a place that could both share that history, share the stories.”
When asked about her personal favourite stories in Chinese-Canadian history, Wong said, “I find very touching stories of the people that basically enlisted and went to war for Canada, even though they had no status, and they were fundamentally not really particularly welcome.” She explained that this eventually resulted in the right to vote for Chinese-Canadians.
A representative from the BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture elaborated on the types of stories that the museum will be highlighting in an email interview with The Peak.
“The Chinese roots in BC go far beyond the gold rush and railway narrative. For example, Indigenous peoples and Chinese migrants worked cooperatively in many regions of BC, living shared experiences of marginalization.”
According to the representative, the museum will start with a temporary exhibit called A Seat at the Table in Vancouver’s Chinatown. This exhibit is meant to highlight the contributions of Chinese migrants to BC, and in particular, will focus on the Chinese restaurant and food industry.
“A close look at the food industry reveals the impact of racial discrimination on Chinese Canadians, but it also tells us much about their ability to resist, organize, seek justice and thrive,” they said.
SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue has also been involved in the initiative. In early 2019, the Centre worked with MLAs George Chow and Lisa Beare to organize multiple community consultations and dialogues in the early planning stages of the museum. Over 500 people attended the eight sessions that were held, and 64 local students and alumni were hired to help facilitate the sessions.
Dr. Robert Daum, Fellow, Diversity & Innovation, SFU Centre for Dialogue told The Peak in an interview, “Meaningful public engagement is in our DNA at SFU [ . . . ] Chinese-Canadians have played a profoundly important role in the history of our province. The province wanted to seek authentic public input about how to do justice to the many important stories of Chinese Canadian individuals and families, the historic sites and artifacts, the achievements and tragedies that are part of our collective history over the past 250 years.”
He added, “It was a deep privilege for everyone involved [ . . . ] to be able to collaborate in supporting the establishment of a new provincial museum.”
A Seat at the Table is scheduled to open in mid-August in Vancouver’s Chinatown. A larger exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver will be unveiled in the Fall.