The Chinese Canadian History Society of B.C. celebrates 20 years of bridging the gaps in Canada’s history

The Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia (CCHSBC) celebrated its 20-year legacy last weekend. Since first being established in 2004, the society has aimed to be a national leader in research, preservation and education about the experiences of Chinese-Canadian immigrants.

To that end, the non-profit organization has led numerous field trips, published several books and collated several documentaries and resources onto its website to encourage public access to online learning,

For CCHSBC director Rob Ho, this legacy has proved well worth celebrating for the educational value it has offered to Canadians looking to learn more about Chinese-Canadian history, as the society has grown to become a rich and renowned resource.

Turning back the clock

The roots of the CCHSCBC first began with the late Edgar Wickberg. While working as a professor in the department of history at the University of British Columbia, Wickberg noticed very little education offered at the elementary and secondary level existed about the Chinese experience in B.C.

Bothered by the lack of available resources for students, he gathered a group of academics from UBC together to form the CCHSBC. The goal was to research, document and preserve Chinese Canadian history, and educate the public about Chinese Canadian experiences.

The Chinese Canadian History Society of B.C. publishes numerous books as part of its effort to educate the province on Chinese history in the province. | Photo by Larry Chin

Their first major event was a way to invite the public into this history: in 2004, the society held its first history fair, a day where young students province-wide presented projects on Chinese Canadian history to members of Vancouver’s community. At this event, winners were presented with a medal, and the supporting schools were presented with a book to add to their library collection.

“It was like a children’s science fair, but it featured Chinese Canadian history,” says board director Rob Ho. “Today, we continue co-sponsoring history fairs with the BC Heritage Fair Society for grades four to 12 in schools province-wide.”

The history fairs have since become an annual tradition with the CCHSBC, but before then many British Columbians lacked easy-to-access ways of learning about Chinese Canadians’ history, including many fourth and fifth-generation Chinese in Canada, like Ho himself.

For Ho and many others, the annual history fair has illuminated the gaps in knowledge, providing them with a deeper understanding both the hardship and socioeconomic differences that first generation Chinese immigrants faced, as well as the legacy they’ve left on the province.

“The railroad and head tax were two big things they were always known for. But [Chinese Canadians] did a lot more, like opening up businesses and supporting stores, and of course, they faced a lot of exclusion,” says Ho.

Expanding the narrative

Over the years, the CCHSBC has hosted various events to encourage community engagement and learning about this rich history. These include film screenings and book readings on topics like Chinatowns, experiences of discrimination and memories of family gatherings and food.

“We have also published books and education tools that scarcely existed back in the day,” says Ho. “The books have been super helpful because they’re tangible things that we can send to schools… [which] didn’t [always] have the resources to tackle the wide breadth of our history.”

The society has also led historical tours that take B.C. students to places filled with lesser-known Chinese-Canadian history like Vancouver Island, Seattle and Lytton. After fostering a series of networks and resources, the society even raised money to help rebuild Lytton following its hugely destructive wildfire season.

Indeed, Chinese-Canadians of B.C. have had a long-standing history with the Nlaka’pamux territory, so after learning that a fire engulfed the town on June 30, 2021, destroying the Lytton Chinese History Museum along with the 1600 artifacts that it housed, the CCHSBC embarked on a fundraiser. To date, they have received $22,406 in donations.

Each spring, the society also hosts an annual banquet to commemorate one person or organization working hard to promote Chinese-Canadian education.

Looking back on the CCHSBC and its evolution, Ho is happy with how much the society has accomplished. In particular, he feels proud of Wickberg’s and past initiatives, and current efforts to develop a variety of educational events and resources and increase the representation of Chinese-Canadian history nationwide.

“People are doing a labour of love, and we recognize the hard work we have put into promoting and preserving Chinese history in Canada,” says Ho.

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