Chinese Canadian History Fair in Nanaimo at Malaspina College
The Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC
organized another history fair, this time at Nanaimo's Malaspina
University-College. Nanaimo's Chinatown used to be a thriving bustling
place from 1860 to 1923. My great-great-grandfather, Rev. Chan Yu
Tan, had ministered at the Chinese United Church around 1924. After becoming increasingly derelict it was destroyed by a fire September 30, 1960. CCHS board member Dr. Imogene Lim played a big part in
bringing many presenters together from Nanaimo, Cumberland, Vancouver
and Prince George.
Here's what Imogene had to say about the event:
“Although we had a very wet and
stormy day, I think we can say the second CCHS Chinese Canadian History
Fair was a success; we drew a sizable crowd to all the featured
activities. There was a lot of mingling and conversation between
visitors and between exhibitors; in many cases, a reunion and
reconnecting of intersecting lives.”
Fourteen displays were presented including the Nanaimo
District Museum, Cumberland Historical Society, Chinese Women Aviators,
Trev Sue-A-Quan's Guyanese Chinese genealogy titled “Cane Reapers,” Head Tax Redress, 1907
Riots, Chinese soccer team featuring Queene Yip, chinese cemetaries, and Chinese Canadian women pionneers.
Janice Wong presented her book CHOW From China to Canada:
Stories of Food and Family. This was followed by a panel
discussion with Dr. Imogene Lim, restauranteur Gerry Wong who along
with Janice all grew up in restaurant enviornments. Gerry's
father had chinese restaurants in Nanaimo, while Imogene's uncle and
the WK Gardens in Vancouver, which she described as a “high end”
restaurant which had catered to Prime Ministers, royalty and
such as Frank Sinatra and Gary Cooper. Imogene even showed some of the
original menus and special event menus created for events such as
weddings and royal visits.
Karin Lee also showed her movie Comrade Dad, as well as having a
display table. It was the Vancouver Island premiere of Comrade
Dad, a Karin Lee film about her father, Wally, who ran a Communist
bookstore in Vancouver's Chinatown in the days before China was
recognized by the Canadian government.
The NFB film featuring my cousin Rhonda Larrabee's story about growing
up half Chinese and half First Nations, Tribe of One, was also shown.
I set up a display of the Rev Chan Family, including the poster
displays that were made for our family reunions in 1999 and 2000.
It was very cool that I had pictures of Janice Wong's parents, Dennis
and Mary, her grandparents Joseph and Rose, and her great grandfather,
the Rev. Chan Yu Tan with his wife Wong Shee, as Janice is my 2nd
cousin once removed.
Rhonda Larrabee is also a relative as her father Art is my
grandmother's elder brother, so we had pictures of Rhonda at the
reunions as well, with her brothers, daughters and grandchildren.
I had meant to phone my grand-aunt Helen who lives in Nanaimo, and
tried to reach her through Directory Assistance once I got there but to
no avail. As I was setting up the display, I saw a white haired
woman approach the Rev. Chan Family display flanked by CCHS board
members Larry Wong and Edgar Wickberg.
“That's my grandfather!” she exclaimed, “And my grandmother! How did you get these pictures!”
Both Larry and Ed looked over at me, as I stood silently behind my
Auntie Helen. I held my finger to my lips asking them not to say
“That's his sister! How did you get these pictures!” my Aunt continued pointing at the pictures.
I finally spoke saying, “Please don't touch the pictures, they are very sensitive.”
“Sorry,” she said as she kept looking at the pictures saying, “That's my Aunt! That's my Uncle!”
“Excuse me,” I said, “How are you related to these people in the pictures?”
She turned and looked at me. Her eyes suddenly widened joyfully
in recognition. “Todd! What are you doing here?”
It turned out that Auntie Helen's friend had been listening to CBC
Radio's North By Northwest, and host Sheryl Mackay had talked about the
Chinese Canadian History Fair at Malispina College, and she told
herself that her friend Helen had to be there.
“You look just like your sister!” Janice Wong exclaimed to Auntie
Helen, when I introduced them to each other for the very first time,
during the CHOW book signing, after the panel discussion with Janice,
Gerry and Imogene. They had never met each other before, but they
knew they were family.