National Archives sign at Kew Gardens Station

National Archives sign at Kew Gardens Station


New, collaborative Chinese Canadian digital historical collection and Web portal under development

According to its front page, Chinese Canadian Stories – Uncommon Histories from a Common Past is a new, collaborative Chinese Canadian digital collection under development by the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and community partners. While I applaud and welcome this new effort to uncover, preserve and disseminate the historical record of a significant component of Canada's population, I can't say I agree with the last part of this sentence: "This project will reshape the way all of us understand Canada, and reclaim the forgotten histories of peoples who have long been ignored in Canadian history."

Long been ignored? Scholars, local historians and literary authors, many of whom are of Chinese descent, have been researching and writing about Chinese Canadian contributions to our collective culture for well over two decades if not a generation (30 years), that is, about 1/5 the length of time Chinese Canadians have been part of the BC experience. I even made a minor contribution in 1985 when the Vancouver Art Gallery published its photographic exhibit catalog Gum San/Gold Mountain: Images of Gold Mountain, 1886-1947, which included my essay "The Mirror of Prejudice: Vancouver Chinese and Nineteenth Century Photographers." That kind of statement is also, to me, somewhat offensive to the legacy of British Columbia Lieutenant-Governor David Lam who was appointed 22 years ago.

It would have been nice if the designers of the initial point of entry for this new portal had made an attempt to link to existing digital collections and databases that already delve into Chinese Canadian history. Among these are the Vancouver Public Library's Chinese Canadian Genealogy and its Chinese-Canadians: Profiles from a Community wiki (launched May 28, 2008), UBC's Historical Chinese Language Materials in British Columbia: An Electronic Inventory (project began in 2000), SFU's Multicultural Canada: Our Diverse Heritage, which dates back to at least 2003, the Library and Archives Canada's 2009 virtual exhibit The Early Chinese Canadians, 1858-1947 and database Immigrants from China, which contains the head tax records for Chinese immigrants to Canada from 1885-1949, as well as earlier digital collections put together through Canada's Digital Collections government funding between 1996-2004 such as the Vancouver Museum's A Chinese Canadian Story: The Yip Sang Family (the link takes you to the archived version at the Library and Archives Canada).

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