The story appears on

Page B4

September 19, 2009

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Canada: How the Chinese helped build a nation

THANKS to 78-year-old Lily Chow, the roles played by early immigrants in the development of modern Canada are gaining wider recognition, writes Ma Dan.

Almost a century and half ago, Chinese laborers began to travel across the Pacific Ocean to Canada to seek their fortune by mining and working in railway construction. They braved many hardships and difficulties and made great contributions to the economic development of their new country.

Recently, a 19-century ethnic Chinese building in Barkerville, a goldrush town in the interior area of Canada's western province of British Columbia, was officially recognized as a national historic site for its important role in the life of those Chinese laborers.

"Their spirits are smiling at us at this memorable moment," Lily Chow, a retired Chinese language teacher and community activist in British Columbia who started the ball rolling on the project, said after a plaque-unveiling ceremony on August 22.

Chow, 78, was the woman behind gaining designation for the Chee Kung Tong building from the federal government. Born in Malaysia and moving to Canada in the mid-1960s, she has long devoted her time to research into Chinese-Canadian history and the promotion of Chinese culture.

Chow is energetic and active, belying her slender figure and old age. She is certainly one of the best examples for the saying "big things come in small packages," a phrase one of her friends used to praise her.

Her opportunity came in 2004 when Chow was invited to attend a seminar about ethnic cultural community history sponsored by Parks Canada, which manages a nationwide network of national historic sites. Everyone invited was asked to make a presentation about a place, an event or people of national historic significance.

She chose to put forward the Chee Kung Tong building in Barkerville, one of the oldest surviving Chinese buildings in the country, and later sent in a proposal for the building.

In preparing all the required materials and going through all the procedures, she was not alone. "Hundreds of people are behind me," Chow says, adding that they came from local communities with both Chinese and Canadian backgrounds. They were inspired by the persistence and dedication Chow had shown in her efforts to have the building recognized.

Her nomination was finally accepted by the federal government in 2008 and a plaque was installed over a year later.

The two-story wooden-frame building offered immigrant Chinese "a refuge where they could find support, work and shelter," as the inscription on the plaque reads. The services helped "foster a sense of belonging in many immigrant Chinese and helped promote interpersonal and business relationships in early Canadian Chinatowns."

Talking about the success, Chow notes that while her efforts were on the behalf of the descendants of early Chinese laborers, she herself was not one of them.

She says: "Their ancestors' hardships and contributions, as well as the prejudice and insults they had suffered, had to be remembered and recognized."

As this chapter in Canada's history is important but remains underrecorded in written histories, Chow has given herself the task of uncovering the truth.

She is one of the first scholars to examine the early Chinese immigrants who had came to British Columbia, managing to dig out stories by looking into archives and news reports, doing interviews and conducting investigations.

She has written three books which tell stories about the life of early Chinese settlers to British Columbia. The first one, "Sojourners in the North," won her the Jeanne Clark Local History Award in 1997 and is used as a textbook in many colleges and universities in Canada.

Throughout those stories, "the strength of conviction and perseverance of the Chinese immigrants shines through the hardships they had to endure," Chow writes. "If you break open the silver we earn, you can see drops of blood in it."

Chow is working on her fourth book in the series, and also offers to give lectures on the topic of Canadian Chinese history during the goldrush era.

The lives of those early Chinese settlers have become an inalienable part of her life.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend