News / Vancouver

Vancouver will apologize for historic racism against Chinese immigrants

City to also apply to make Chinatown UNESCO heritage site

A group of men reading notices posted on a wall in Chinatown in the 1930s.

Courtesy Vancouver Archives/Karl Haspel / Vancouver Archives

A group of men reading notices posted on a wall in Chinatown in the 1930s.

Vancouver city council will formally apologize for past municipal bylaws and actions that discriminated against Chinese immigrants up until the middle of the 20th Century.

The apology is planned for April 2018 and will be delivered in Toishanese, a dialect spoken by the early Chinese immigrants to Vancouver, which has mostly fallen out of use but will be used as an homage to their struggles.

Council also voted to adopt other recommendations of a report that detailed the historic wrongs. Those recommendations include applying for UNESCO World Heritage status for Chinatown and making the report accessible to the general public and to public school students.

Speakers told council of the discrimination their parents and grandparents faced. They also expressed concern about the future of Chinatown, an area that has seen soaring land values, the loss of many stores that sold traditional Chinese food and other products, and fewer shoppers as more recent immigrants from China opt to shop elsewhere.

Pender Street in Vancouver's Chinatown.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

Pender Street in Vancouver's Chinatown.

Fred Mah told council about his grandfather, who came to work on the railroad, and his father, who paid the $500 head tax to immigrate to Canada. But they were not allowed to bring their families. Mah and his mother didn’t come to Canada until 1949, and his grandmother and older brother waited still longer to join the family because of immigration rules at the time.

“When we arrived in 1949, what really shocked me about Chinatown was the lack of women and children. The majority of the people were men over 40, and the men were always gawking at me and my mother when we were on the street,” Mah said.

“What really stuck in my mind was a bunch of old Chinese men sitting on the Carnegie Library steps. My dad explained to me that they don’t have a home or a family to go back to.”

Chinese musicians playing during VJ day celebrations in Chinatown in August 1945.

Courtesy Vancouver Archives/Jack Lindsay

Chinese musicians playing during VJ day celebrations in Chinatown in August 1945.

Cynthia Kent urged council to adopt the recommendations of the report on behalf of her parents, Arthur and Vivian Jung.

“My mother, Vivian Jung, who was born in Merritt, B.C., was first full-time teacher of Chinese descent hired by VSB, despite being, as a student teacher, told she was not allowed to swim in Crystal Pool because she was of Chinese descent, when she was taking lifesaving qualifications with the other student teachers,” Kent said, adding that Jim Lightbody, the principal of Tecumseh Elementary, pushed the school board to hire Jung.

“I’m also here speaking for my father, Arthur Jung, whose letter that I have here from the city clerk dated Sept. 27, 1946, denying his request to be added to the city of Vancouver’s voters list, despite the fact that he was born in Canada, lived and worked in Vancouver, was a World War II vet and owned property in the city.”

The historians who authored the historic discrimination report noted that several prominent Vancouverites spoke up against the discriminatory policies, including a city solicitor and alderman Helena Gutteridge.

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