Canada’s first museum dedicated to the history of Chinese Canadians will open in Vancouver to mark the 100th anniversary of legislation restricting immigration from China.
Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sports Minister Lana Popham has announced that the Canadian Museum of Chinese will open on July 1, 2023 — a century after the federal government enacted the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act.
At the time, the provincial government was pressuring Ottawa to reduce immigration from China. It has been pushed by trade unions and other groups concerned about immigration from parts of the world outside the UK and northern Europe.
Popham announced the historic opening date while committing an additional $10 million from the province for a two-year renovation and operating costs, bringing the province’s total investment to $48.5 million.
“The contributions of Chinese Canadians in British Columbia have been an important part of our province’s success and the importance of the Chinese Canadian community in our collective history cannot be overstated,” Popham said. “This investment not only recognizes the contributions of the Chinese Canadian community , and help revitalize Chinatown, both a much-loved area of Vancouver and a neighborhood of historical and cultural significance.”
Melissa Karmen Lee, chief executive of the Canadian Museum of Chinese, said the “transformation” funding will help the community put the finishing touches on the museum.
“As a community, we worked together to make the museum a reality, but it was the province’s unwavering support and partnership that allowed us to make that dream a reality,” she said.
She added that the opening will be an important milestone for the Canadian Chinese community with connections around the world.
“At a time when anti-Asian racism is reverberating in North America and beyond, the museum’s work is a powerful reminder of the importance of educating and celebrating the contributions of diverse communities who have helped shape Canada’s history and identity,” she said.
The museum’s first national exhibit, Paper Traces, highlights the history of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Lee said. Not only did it effectively reduce the number of immigrants from China to fewer than 100 between 1923 and 1947, but it also contributed to the decline of many Chinese settlements in British Columbia. According to historian Jean Barman’s “The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia,” only the Chinatowns of Vancouver and Victoria have retained their character.
The museum will also include profiles of Chinese Canadian immigrants.
“We want to do our part in revitalizing Chinatown and bringing Vancouverites and tourists back to Pender Street and the doors of this very unique cultural neighborhood,” Lee said.
Still uncertain is whether the federal government will return to the negotiating table. Popham echoed Grace Wong, president of the Canadian Association of Chinese Museums in BC, who invited other levels of government to contribute.
BC first announced its commitment to museums in 2019, providing a $1 million grant to the City of Vancouver to support programming and programs. In 2020, BC provided an endowment of $8 million to establish the Canadian Chinese Museum Association and $2 million to complete planning and initial development. In 2022, BC spent 25.5 million Canadian dollars to purchase the Yongsheng Building, the oldest building in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
The Association of Chinese Canadian Museums of BC also plans to launch a major fundraising effort based on existing donations.
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