Canada’s first museum dedicated to Chinese-Canadian history will open in Vancouver on the 100th anniversary of legislation that curtailed immigration from China.
Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Lana Popham announced the Chinese Canadian Museum will open July 1, 2023 — one century after the federal government enacted the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The provincial government at the time had pressured Ottawa to curtail immigration from China. Labour unions and other groups fearful of immigration from parts of the world outside the United Kingdom and northern Europe pushed for it.
Popham announced the historic opening date while pledging an additional $10 million from the province for renovation and operations costs spanning two years, bringing the total provincial investment to $48.5 million.
“The contributions of British Columbians of Chinese descent are an essential part of our province’s success and the importance of the Chinese-Canadian community in our collective history cannot be overstated,” Popham said. “This investment not only recognizes the contributions of the Chinese-Canadian community, but also helps revitalize Chinatown, which is both a beloved part of Vancouver and a historically and culturally important neighbourhood.”
Melissa Karmen Lee, Chief Executive Officer of the Chinese Canadian Museum, said this “transformational” funding will help the society put the finishing touches on the museum.
“As a community, we worked together to realize the museum, but it was the province’s unwavering support and partnership that allowed us to transform the dream into reality,” she said.
The opening will be a significant milestone for Chinese communities across Canada, who have connections around the world, she added.
“At a time when anti-Asian racism has reverberated across North America and beyond, the museum’s work is a powerful reminder of the importance of educating and celebrating the contributions of diverse communities, who have helped shaped Canada’s history and identity,” she said.
Lee said the museum’s first national exhibition is The Paper Trail, which highlights the history of the Exclusion Act. It not only effectively reduced immigration from China between 1923 and 1947 to less than 100 people, but also contributed to the decline of many Chinese settlements across British Columbia. Only Vancouver and Victoria’s Chinatowns retained their character, according to historian Jean Barman’s The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia.
The museum will also include an overview of Chinese-Canadian migration.
“We hope to do our part when our doors open in revitalizing Chinatown and bringing back Vancouverites and tourists to Pender Street and this very unique cultural neighbourhood,” Lee said.
Still uncertain is whether the federal government will come to the table. Grace Wong, chair of the Chinese Canadian Museum Society of B.C., invited other levels of government to contribute, a point Popham echoed.
B.C. first announced its commitment to the museum in 2019, providing the City of Vancouver with a $1-million grant to support planning and programming. In 2020, B.C. provided an $8-million endowment to establish the Chinese Canadian Museum Society and $2 million to complete planning and initial development. In 2022, B.C. spent $25.5 million for the purchase of the Wing Sang Building, the oldest building in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Chinese Canadian Museum Society of BC also plans to launch a significant fundraising campaigning on top of already existing donations.