Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada, and the second oldest in North America. Chinese immigrants have contributed to the land for over 240 years, predating both the province and the country of Canada, yet there is no established museum to preserve their history.
That is going to change.
The province is seeking to establish Chinese Canadian Museums across the province in a “hub and spoke” model, with a main museum in Vancouver’s Chinatown, and smaller ones in cities across B.C., including one in Victoria.
“I’d like to see that there is a presence in Victoria as well,” said Alan Lowe, committee member of the Chinese Canadian Museum Working Group. “We’ve got Fan Tan Alley, various buildings which have associate halls, the Chinese temple… there is a lot of history in Victoria and a lot of people don’t know it.”
The move comes four years after the province formally apologized to B.C.’s Chinese Canadian community for historical wrong-doings. The apology included a report with recommended next steps, where the idea for the museums emerged.
The establishment of a museum network couldn’t come soon enough, Lowe said.
“Many of the veterans and seniors that have been here a long, long time are getting quite elderly, and they may have content and stories that would benefit a museum,” he said. “Our forefathers have gone through a lot and I think it needs to be documented.”
For Victoria City Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, a museum is something she’s been hoping for for 20 years.
“Through the years I have been collecting documents, pictures, costumes, dishes from families that I hoped would one day be in a museum here,” Thornton-Joe said in an email.
“I would like to see a Museum that documents the Chinese arrival in Canada, their struggles, their contributions and the paths they paved for individuals like myself who unlike my grandparents and parents saw times when they were not allowed to swim in the Crystal Pool, were not given the right to vote even if they were born here and the right to run for elected office”
The province is now in the consultation process and is looking for public feedback, which can be submitted online at engage.gov.bc.ca until Jan. 4 in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
There will also be a public hearing in Victoria on Jan. 26 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Ambrosia Conference and Event Centre at 638 Fisgard St.