I was privileged to be a member of the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council (LIAC), tasked with ensuring the success of eight major Chinese Legacy Initiatives arising from the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report and Recommendations—a daunting yet very important responsibility. The Chinese Legacy Initiatives serve as a counterpart to the official government of BC apology to Chinese Canadians for historical wrongs committed by past provincial governments. LIAC is a voluntary group made up of diverse and distinguished individuals who are active in the Chinese Canadian communities of BC.
Compared to the Chinese pioneers this apology is addressed to, I am a relatively new Canadian from Hong Kong. The challenges I and other immigrants face are different but not dissimilar from the challenges of our forebearers. Discovering and exploring the history and contributions of Chinese in Canada has been a meaningful and lasting experience for me. I believe the importance of marking, preserving and acknowledging the past— however ugly it may be—in a way that is accessible to future citizens and leaders is the highest of goals and achievements. I hope my efforts and the efforts of the LIAC achieve this goal: the goal of preserving, reconciling, sharing and passing down these stories, memories and histories for future generations of Canadians and immigrants to Canada to reflect on when faced with similar challenges and decisions.
For my part I am most proud of my contributions in marking, finding and identifying 77 nominated Chinese historic sites in BC of which 21 are now officially recognized by the province. These include Vancouver’s and Victoria’s Chinatowns, a Chinese cemetery in Kamloops and canneries on Vancouver Island and up the BC coast. On my desk sits a large white binder with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of BC sites identified as related to the history of Chinese Canadians. The adventures of sorting through this binder profoundly affected my understanding and appreciation of the extent of the contributions and activity of early Chinese settlers. I also experienced first-hand the crucial role that local, multicultural and First Nations communities represent in preserving history.
I would like to highlight one of the trips that I went on with the LIAC members, along the Fraser River from Lillooet to a place called Browning’s Diggins in central BC. As part of a three-day rafting trip through Lytton and ending in Yale, we tented overnight on the Fraser River bank close to a remote mining site. Few if any records exist of this particular Chinese gold mining site and, being so remote, it’s unlikely it would have ever been stumbled upon. Like many sites its story would have been all but forgotten if not for the foresight and traditions of local First Nations and community elders who preserved the history of the region. This site serves as one example among many of the fact that without the knowledge and aid of local communities and the enduring wisdom and forethought of their elders, a piece of history would have been lost to the detriment of us all.
Although this site is small and isolated it is one of many, its history represents the building of a nation and the contributions of diversity to the society we live in today. A saying I am reminded of is: “前車之覆，後車之鑒” / “前车之覆，后车之鉴” In English, the overturning of the cart in front will serve as a warning to the carts following behind. This Chinese idiom can be interpreted to mean an error made in the past that will serve as advice or wisdom for the future; to learn from the mistakes of one’s predecessor. On behalf of myself, the LIAC members and the Chinese communities of Canada I want to give thanks to the local individuals, leaders, elders and First Nations who remember and preserve Canada’s many histories. Without them, much shared history would have been lost and we could not attempt to reconcile and acknowledge historical wrongs towards creating an inclusive multicultural society. I hope the efforts of the LIAC, the Ministry of International Trade and Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism and the province of BC achieve the goal of ensuring that the challenges, struggles and contributions of Chinese Canadians and immigrants to Canada are not forgotten, and are upheld as the strengths of BC’s multiculturalism.