100 Influential Chinese-Canadians in B.C.
Meet some of the people of Chinese descent who strengthen our community
Michael Scott, Vancouver SunPublished: Saturday, October 21, 2006
The first Chinese newcomer to reach what would soon become B.C. stepped onto a Victoria wharf in the early summer of 1858. He had travelled north by steamer from San Francisco, in search of a golden opportunity on the sandbars of the Fraser River.
His arrival in the bustling colony was considered noteworthy enough to appear in the pages of the Victoria Gazette, as a harbinger of changes to come. And so indeed he was, followed close behind by a tidal influx of Chinese workers as the inhabitants of whole villages emptied out across the wide Pacific -- tens and tens of thousands, mostly men at first -- to pan the rivers, build the railways, stock the shelves and run the laundries.
History lost track of what became of that first "Chinaman," but his pioneering footsteps cleared a path for innumerable others.
The Chinese character, Hua, was drawn by Johnson Su-Sing Chow, 84, of Vancouver, specifically to be the emblem of The Vancouver Sun's 2006 profile of 100 influential Chinese-Canadians in the Lower Mainland. Chow, internationally revered as a master calligrapher and scroll painter, is also the subject of 18 foreign-language art books, and the author of many textbooks on the subject of Chinese painting. He has lived in Vancouver since 1980 and had a huge impact on the city's culture.
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Today, people of Chinese ancestry are the province's most populous ethnic minority, numbering almost 500,000 in the Lower Mainland. They wield immense influence on every aspect of our shared society. In field after field -- arts, politics, law, medicine, science, finance, business, religion, community affairs, philanthropy -- Chinese-Canadians have taken their rightful place as leaders and innovators.
In some ways, this is Canadian multiculturalism at its very best, a colour-blind gathering of talent and shared purpose.
There's just one problem: For most of our history, we have been anything but colour-blind. It wasn't the Anglo-Europeans of British Columbia who had to fight for the right to belong, or who endured a century of racism of the most despicable and institutionalized sort. It wasn't the Anglo-Europeans who were reminded over and over, for generations, that they were different, lesser than other Canadians: required to pay taxes but not allowed to vote.
These dark facts make the contemporary accomplishments of Chinese-Canadians in B.C. all the more impressive. Not only have they distinguished themselves in so many ways, but Chinese-Canadians have done so against a background of racism and discrimination that only just began to abate in the second half of the 20th century.
Prejudice has finally given way to politeness, but our divisive history lives on in the way the Anglo-European majority and the so-called Chinese community (actually not one homogenous group, but many sub-groups divided along linguistic, political and cultural lines) continue to conduct themselves as two solitudes: nodding acquaintances who sometimes still ignore one another.
Earlier this year, The Vancouver Sun's senior editors and writers began discussing new ways to reflect the depth and breadth of multicultural life in British Columbia. As a newspaper, we disagree with the old adage that good fences make good neighbours. In our experience, communities need ways to connect cultures, not separate them.
In multicultural Vancouver, bridges make better neighbourhoods than fences do.
With that in mind, we present this special tribute to the influence and contributions of our region's Hua-ren (meaning, literally, "China-people," regardless of whether they were born overseas and arrived a year ago, or are the Canadian-born great-grandchildren of 19th-century immigrants).