When your mandate is preserving, collecting, researching and sharing the history of the entire province, outreach is an important tool for delivering content. For the Chinese Legacy Projects, the decision to create a kit to match the new curriculum for Grade 5 and 10 Social Studies was an easy one. In 2014, Premier Christy Clark apologized for historical wrongs committed against Chinese Canadians and a series of Chinese Legacy Initiatives was launched, including a new curriculum for British Columbia that highlights early Chinese Canadian history.
In response to the new curriculum we worked in collaboration with Open Schools BC, and through that process I became more familiar with our vast archival holdings on Chinese Canadians and our human history collection. One set of artifacts that stood out had previously been displayed in the Royal British Columbia Museum’s FreeSpirit: Stories of You, Me and BC exhibition in 2008. The artifacts are three fragments that were chiselled from the walls of the Federal Immigration Detention Hospital in Victoria, BC in 1977 by cultural geographer Dr. David Chuenyan Lai.
From 1909 to 1923, newly arrived Chinese immigrants were detained in cells in the hospital while government officers sorted out their paperwork. In the writings dated from 1911 to 1919, early Chinese immigrants used the walls that detained them to express their first experience in Canada, their aspirations for their new land, thoughts of family and homeland, and their sorrow and anger over their treatment.
Using the wall poems as the anchor for the kit, my next task was to identify primary source materials to help relay the experiences of early Chinese Canadians. The selection of the primary source material was a critical step that involved going through hundreds of scanned documents from the BC Archives. Luckily the process was aided by some expert guidance from Archivist Ann ten Cate and Curator Dr. Tzu-I Chung. Working alongside Bobby Orr, a teacher on contract, we printed select documents and placed them in a giant timeline then chose those that stood out for their content, emotional impact and aesthetic appeal.
Once we made our decisions the background for the documents was written and sent to the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council (LIAC) for their feedback. Their comments and suggestions were incorporated and then our exhibit arts department got to work reproducing the documents and wall fragments, and building the kits to house them.
The end result is more like a small exhibit for the classroom than the typical outreach kit of the past. It is a set of four stacking boxes containing replicas of the wall poems, reproductions of primary source documents from the BC Archives, a timeline game, posters developed by Open Schools BC, a teachers’ resource package and a media player and short film of Dr. Lai discovering the wall fragments in 1977.
Eight kits are available for teachers around the province. The kits were presented at the BC Social Studies Conference in October 2015 in a sold out session. Further helping to distribute the kits and present them to communities around the province are five museums who attended a session at the BC Museums Association Conference in October 2015. Located in Chilliwack, Creston, Nelson, Penticton and Revelstoke, these museums will add content from their local area to further tell the story of the Chinese Canadian experience in their community.
The kits themselves and their distribution from the Royal BC Museum to schools around the province is generously funded by the Ministry of International Trade and Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism. If you know a BC teacher of grade 5 or 10, invite them to learn more about the outreach kits here.