A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] “Bringing the Chinese Canadian Archive into view”

Spacing Toronto’s Arlene Chan profiles the exciting introduction to the public via the Toronto Public Library of an archive of Chinese Canadian history over the past century and more.

On Dominion Day, 1923, Canadians were in a celebratory mood. But those good feelings didn’t extend into any Chinatown. July 1 came to be regarded by the Chinese in Canada as “humiliation day.” The Chinese Immigration Act, known commonly as the Chinese Exclusion Act, banned virtually all Chinese immigration for the next 24 years. It stood as the most severe legislation of the more than a hundred anti-Chinese policies of the day. The successively increased head tax of $50 (1885), $100 (1900), and $500 (1903) failed to deter immigration, as intended, at a time when the vision for the country was a ‘white Canada.’

My mother, Jean Lumb, nee Toy Jin Wong, was three years old on that infamous day, but almost a year would elapse before a government bureaucrat photographed her for this official document. After all, the Chinese Exclusion Act not only halted immigration; it also required that all Chinese, whether born in Canada (as my mother was) or abroad, to register for an identification card within one year of the passage of the new law.

The card looks uninteresting in itself – a document that lived for decades in a shoebox. But in a recent interview for Ming Pao Daily News, a former employee of the now defunct Shing Wah Daily News, once the largest Chinese newspaper in North America, commented that the need to pass on and preserve this history to future generations is more urgent than ever. The connections to our past are fast fading with the loss of our elders.

Such documents will now be shared, thanks to a new initiative of the Toronto Public Library. The mandate of the Chinese Canadian Archive — which will be launched officially at a reception this evening (Tuesday) at the Toronto Reference Library – is to collect, preserve, store, and provide access for researchers and the general public.

“This archival program is a great opportunity to properly accommodate our family’s precious historic material that our children will not want to keep,” says Nelson Wong, whose father, W.C. Wong, was a prominent leader in Chinatown.

Mavis Chu Lew Garland, who grew up in Chinatown, wants others to know that her “half-Chinese family also existed in Toronto.” Garland’s sizeable donation of documents and photos reveals the extent to which her family honoured its Chinese heritage. “The items will now be available to be shared with whoever is interested in the Chinese culture, and in the people who valued them.”

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Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2016 at 2:00 pm

One Response

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  1. Puts a lump in my throat. My ex — who I wish was still my current — is from parents who immigrated from Hong Kong in the mid-fifties, at about the same time my mom’s parents emigrated from Toronto to the USSR (they returned to Toronto in the mid-70s).

    Both sets of families eventually integrated fairly well into their adopted (and re-adopted) societies, for better or worse. But those early memories never go away.

    And not surprisingly, both sets of families took up the ideological battles of their homelands. I wonder how many PRC-philes showed up at the launch at the Toronto Reference Library… probably as many as the number of anti-Soviet Ukes who show up at 300 Bathurst revivals, if those are even held any more.

    Steve Aplin

    November 30, 2016 at 2:43 pm


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