A milestone has been reached in the creation of the first-ever computerized inventory of Chinese historical records and artifacts in B.C., which will showcase the rich cultural history of Chinese Canadians in the province.
Step one of a pilot project involving the Cumberland Museum and Archives and the Nanaimo Museum is now complete, and will inform the work to establish an online database of artifacts held in local and regional B.C. museums and accessible to the public in a keystroke.
The inventory contains culturally significant artifacts including Chinese coins, scrolls, photographs and historic texts. One of the most interesting finds is a 90-drawer apothecary chest used by a drugstore owner in Nanaimo’s Chinatown to store ingredients for herbal and mineral treatments in traditional Chinese medicine.
The Vancouver Island museums were chosen for the pilot because of their substantial stores of artifacts and because the Cumberland and Nanaimo areas have historically had large Chinese populations.
Funding for this project is $75,000 and inventories from about 10 other museums are expected to be completed in the fall of 2015. Subsequently, the online database will be made available to the public and researchers through library, museum and government online resources.
The B.C. government and the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council (LIAC) are working in partnership with the University of Victoria, the B.C. Museums Association and select local and regional museums across the province. The additional museums that will be included in phase two of the project have not yet been selected.
In May 2014, a formal apology was delivered on behalf of all members of the B.C. legislative assembly to Chinese Canadians for historical wrongs committed by past provincial governments. A consultation report was released at the same time that outlined eight legacy projects, which included a recommendation to identify historical and culturally important artifacts and locations.
The LIAC was created by government to assist with the legacy projects. The council works with Chinese Canadian communities and other key partners to advise government on project implementation and to ensure that the projects are known and communicated throughout the province.
Minister of International Trade and Minister Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism, Teresa Wat -
“With our project partners, we are assisting in the preservation of Chinese Canadian cultural history. The ultimate goal is to give British Columbians a better understanding of the contributions Chinese Canadians have made in the development of the province. This is the first step in a process that we hope to see continued in the future.”
University of Victoria Department of History principle investigator Dr. John Price -
“The funds for this project are a sacred trust. They allow us to bring together curators and archivists from local and regional museums, University of Victoria historians and cultural resource professionals, and experts in data management. Together we will make accessible to the public an incredible treasure chest of Chinese Canadian artifacts that highlight the historic role of Chinese throughout the province, their resilience in the face of systemic racism, and the strong, continuing ties that have been established with China.”
University of Victoria Department of History research director Dr. Zhongping Chen -
“This project will highlight the many historical treasures that Chinese Canadians brought to and contributed to the province over the past 150 years. Scattered in dozens of smaller towns and cities, they will now be accessible to all British Columbians and become our province’s common heritage. Hopefully more people will donate their precious heirlooms to local museums.”
B.C. Museums Association executive director Theresa Mackay -
“Museums and galleries in British Columbia collect, protect and preserve the diverse history and identity of our province. Chinese archives and artifacts from our museums will now be shared with the public and researchers so that we may all better understand our local and global connections to China and how the Chinese culture has contributed to the development of British Columbia.”
Vancouver Island University Department of Anthropology chair, and LIAC member, Imogene Lim -
“As a LIAC member representing the Island, I’ve been associated with the two Chinatowns of Cumberland and Nanaimo for over a decade as both scholar and community member. I’m very pleased that the two museums successfully piloted the artifact inventory project, as this will increase an awareness of early Chinese and their role in the development and economy of this province while also expanding the accessibility of resources for scholarship in Canadian Studies.”
Cumberland Museum and Archives executive director Anna Rambow -
“Although little remains on the site of Cumberland Chinatown, the Cumberland Museum and Archives holds in our collection over 1,000 artifacts, photos, and archival materials from this once thriving community. The Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project will make these significant items available to a broad audience, while providing a valuable opportunity to share the stories of the early Chinese Canadian settlers who faced unimaginable challenges both in and out of the Cumberland coal fields.”
Nanaimo Museum general manager Debbie Trueman -
“We feel privileged to be part of this project. Artifacts from Nanaimo’s Chinatown feature prominently in our collection and are a highlight with museum visitors.”
- In 1788, Chinese workers landed in Nuu-chah-nulth territory (Nootka Sound). They were part of Captain John Meares’ expedition to build the first year-round, non-indigenous settlement.
- Chinese workers were brought to Cumberland by the Dunsmuir family (Union Colliery Company) to build and then work in the mines and to build the Wellington Colliery Railway to transport the coal to the seaport of Union Bay on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
- Cumberland’s Chinatown was built on wetlands just west of Union Bay.
- Between 1891 and 1899 Chinese miners drained the swamp; built houses, businesses and market gardens; and created one of Canada’s largest Chinese communities by the end of World War I.
- B.C. is the most ethnically diverse province in Canada and welcomes nearly 40,000 new immigrants every year.
- The Cumberland Museum and Archives and the Nanaimo Museum artifacts pilots are part of a larger historical legacy project that will eventually expand to include:
- Fraser River Corridor Heritage Landscape Report: A study to explore the cultural landscape of Chinese Canadian mining sites from the 1800s along the Fraser River.
- Historic places recognition including a popular inventory of publicly nominated sites.
- An inventory of clan association buildings throughout the Province.
- Extensive digital database of artifacts of Chinese Canadian significance.
For more information about the legacy projects and the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council: www.embracebc.ca/embracebc/community/apology_for_historical_wrongs.page?WT.svl=Centre
View the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report and Recommendations:www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/downloads/Chinese_Consultation.pdf
Embrace BC - Province of B.C. multiculturalism site: www.embracebc.ca
Ministry of International Trade and Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and
Chinese Canadian Artifacts Inventory Pilot Project
University of Victoria
A globally recognized research-intensive university, the University of Victoria offers innovative programs for more than 20,000 students. The university is a national and international leader in many areas of critical research and creative endeavour, with a faculty of committed and inspiring teachers. http://www.uvic.ca/
BC Museums Association
Founded in 1957, the BC Museums Association (BCMA) creates a bright future for British Columbia’s museum, gallery, and related communities through networking, advocacy, innovation, and professional development. The BCMA delivers programs and services to the benefit of its members and the sector at large, acting as the cultural and heritage information hub for British Columbia. http://museumsassn.bc.ca/
Cumberland Museum and Archives
The Cumberland Museum tells the story of the people of Cumberland. It opened its doors in 1981 and is home to the extensive archives and artifacts of the community of Cumberland. The museum offers over 40 exhibits, a company store, research services, heritage events, tours and a replica coal mine. It also has an extensive photo collection that can accessed through their website: http://www.cumberlandmuseum.ca/
Located in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, the Nanaimo Museum hosts an array of informative and interactive exhibits that showcase Nanaimo's dynamic history and culture. It also features local First Nations history and the lifestyles of early settlers and residents including Chinese Canadians. http://www.nanaimomuseum.ca/index.php
Examples of Inventoried Artifacts
Ancient Chinese Coins Wong Family Collection, Nanaimo Museum
The first coin was minted in the reign period of Emperor Shunzhi, who ruled from 1644 to 1661. The four characters on the coin mean ‘The universal currency of the Shunzhi’ [reign period].
The second coin was minted in the reign period of Emperor Guangxu, who ruled from 1875 to 1908. The four characters on the coin mean ‘The universal currency of the Guangxu’ [reign period].
The third coin was minted in the reign period of Emperor Yongzheng, who ruled from 1723 to 1735. The four characters on the coin mean ‘The universal currency of the Yongzheng’ [reign period].
Two Scrolls Minister Dai Hongci’s Calligraphy - circa 1910, Cumberland Museum and Archives
These two scrolls were created by Dai Hongci a native of Nanhai in China’s Guangdong province. He acquired his jinshi (civil servant) degree in 1876, and from the mid-1890s served at ministerial rank in Peking in the departments of Rites, Justice, Revenue and Law, also holding responsibility for Metropolitan and Palace examinations. He frequently petitioned the throne on national issues, particularly on defence policy and educational reform. In December 1905 he set out on a diplomatic mission to Japan, the USA and 13 European countries. His observations were recorded in Chushi jiu guo riji (Diplomatic Mission to Nine Countries).
Photo of Chinese miner and glass plate No date, Hayashi / Kitamura / Matsubuchi Studio (c. 1913 - 1932), Cumberland Museum and Archives.
Head taxes imposed on Chinese immigrants rose to a prohibitive $500 by 1903. As a result few men could afford to have their wives and families join them in Canada.
Apothecary Chest c. 1910, Nanaimo Museum
The 90-drawer apothecary chest was made in China c. 1910 and was brought to Nanaimo’s Chinatown by Wong Kee Soon (c. 1880-1948). Mr. Wong opened the Di Sung Tong and Co., or Keep You Alive drug store, in 1912. Mr. Wong had learned how to dry, crush, slice, boil or steam herbs and minerals to treat patients while training as an herbalist doctor in China. His wife, Mah Sze Hun, joined Wong to Nanaimo in 1918.
Mr. Wong was the only doctor in Chinatown during the Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1918. The Nanaimo Hospital acquired an x-ray machine in the 1920s and Wong felt that he would have fewer patients as a result. He decided to close his herbalist business and open the Canton Restaurant in Nanaimo’s Chinatown.
Ministry of International Trade and Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and