When the Chinese Exclusion Act came into force in 1923, it not only effectively stopped Chinese immigration to Canada, but also wiped out the families of thousands of workers already in Canada.
The Chinese Canadian Museum opens to the public Saturday in Vancouver’s Chinatown for the first time on Saturday to mark the 100th anniversary of the controversial law that says many have been declared celibate or cut off from loved ones in China. Exhibition curator Catherine Clement said.
“They just dried up here,” said Clement. “They were left with no descendants to tell their story. No one even remembers they existed… They were broken while they were here.”
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Some were admitted to mental health facilities such as Essondale Hospital in Coquitlam, Clement said, calling them “the face of exclusion.”
Today, their story is told in the “Paper Trajectory to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923” exhibition.
Chinese Canadian Museum officials said the opening date was chosen as a poignant reminder of an often-overlooked part of Canada’s history.
“Through history classes and schooling, I think a lot of people felt that people never really understood the complete history,” said Grace Wong, director of the museum.
“We take it as our mission to make public education the top priority of what we do, and part of that is helping tell that complete history.”
The museum was built in Chinatown’s historic Wing Sun Building after more than six years of planning, beginning when then-Prime Minister John Horgan ordered the state’s Department of Tourism, Arts and Culture to establish the facility. Open a permanent facility.
The group behind the museum was launched in 2020 after consultations with local residents, and a physical location was revealed in 2022 after a state funding of $27.5 million.
B.C. Premier David Evey and other officials attended the opening ceremony on Friday. Eby praised Hogan for defending the museum amid a surge in anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eby also highlighted the recent Toronto mayoral election of Olivia Chow, calling the Chinese Exclusion Act “the most racist bill ever passed by our Congress.”
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The museum’s CEO, Melissa Carmen Lee, describes the facility as a start-up, whose ultimate success will depend on how many visitors it can attract. said.
Lee said he hopes the museum will help revitalize Chinatown and attract more visitors to the area.
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“We would like to enlist our partners, stores and cultural institutions to help us move and come to Chinatown,” she said. “I hope all of this is part of what it means to visit the Chinese Canadian Museum.”
Clement said the subject of the Exclusion Act, also known as the Canadian Immigration Act 1923, first intrigued her when she spoke with a Chinese-Canadian veteran for another exhibit.
“Where were you born?” said Clemens. “They would say Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary. Nevertheless, they pulled out immigration cards, almost all of which were dated to his 1924.
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“After many years, I realized that they were evidence of the Act of Exclusion,” she said. “They served in the war for Canada, and they were born in Canada and still have immigration cards. “
Clement compiled the documentation for the Paper Trail exhibit primarily through private collections and official records from institutions such as mental hospitals.
Lee said the museum will also have a second exhibit to coincide with the opening, focusing on Chinese immigration to Canada from 1788.
The key, she said, is to present the diverse voices in Chinese-Canadian history.
“There are Chinese immigrants to Canada not only from China, but also from Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa and Mauritius,” Lee said. “So when I talk about my exhibit at the Chinese Canadian Museum, I want to talk about all these things.”
Ultimately, Wong said the museum belongs to all Canadians, regardless of their ethnicity or cultural background. She said she hopes people from all parts of the community will use the new facility to learn more about the challenges people face as they strive to become multicultural Canada.
“This is for all of us, because the history of Chinese Canadians is basically part of the history of all of British Columbia,” she said. “This is basically part of the entire history of Canada and a very important moment for all of us.”
© 2023 Canadian Press