Learning, Connection and Fun

Coming Soon: Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A Story of Diversity, Racism and Arson – New Online Exhibition

Posted on: January 9th, 2019 by Anna Irwin

Chinese-Canadian domestic worker holding the son of Lister Smith, c. 1896. Photograph by J.O. Booen.
[Chilliwack Museum and Archives, P.Coll 120, File 46]

Despite announcing an extension to our Mountaineers: Community Experience in Chilliwack’s Mountains exhibition, it’s been a non-stop flurry of activity at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives for our exhibition development team.

On January 15th, the Chilliwack Museum and Archives will be launching our latest online exhibition, Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A Story of Diversity, Racism and Arson.

Made possible through the assistance of the Virtual Museum of Canada’s Community Memories Program , the exhibition makes extensive use of research conducted by Dr. Chad Reimer for his book, Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A History, and brings together object and archival collections from the Chilliwack Museum and Archives collection, along with audio and video interviews with Dr. Reimer and community members.

Chilliwack had a Chinatown?

Not just one, but two. Chinatown North was roughly located near Five Corners and was a thriving economic centre for the region’s community. Chinatown South was located along Yale Road West and was home to the Chinese Masonic Temple, an important community landmark that served various functions, including as a space of worship, meeting hall and hospital.

Subjected to discriminatory laws and practices at all levels of government, Chilliwack’s Chinatowns and their residents were commonly targets of racist remarks and attitudes from Chilliwack’s large Euro-Canadian community. These attitudes manifested frequently and can be seen in many different ways, including hiring practices at places of employment, letters submitted to the Chilliwack Progress and the multitude of suspected arsons which contributed to the decline of both Chinatowns.

Chilliwack’s Chinatowns Redux?

Chinese-Canadian labourers, such as Sing and his co-worker at Hulbert Hops Gardens, were a common sight in Chilliwack’s hop fields, c. 1901-1937.
[Chilliwack Museum and Archives, 1987.013.004]

Those who visited the Gold Mountain Dream: Bravely Venture into the Fraser Valley exhibition at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives in 2017 might be tempted to feel a bit of déjà vu and may wonder if this exhibition will be the same as the one featured at the museum.

Rest assured, while there may be some similarities to the Gold Mountain Dreams exhibition, the exhibition in 2017 was based upon a travelling exhibition from the Royal British Columbia Museum which allowed for the story of Chilliwack’s Chinatowns to be seen within the broader British Columbia gold rush narrative.

The new exhibition, meanwhile, primarily tackles the history of Chilliwack’s Chinese-Canadian residents post-gold rush. Broadly, it places emphasis on aspects of the daily life of Chilliwack’s early Chinese-Canadian residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This includes discussions of the Chinatowns merchant elite, whose entrepreneurial spirit permeated both Chinatown North and South and the employment opportunities, such as seasonal farm work and domestic housework that were common trades amongst Chilliwack’s Chinese-Canadians.

Outside of the working sphere, Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A Story of Diversity, Racism and Arson delves into the social and familial lives of those within the Chinatowns. It highlights common themes from within the Chinatowns, such as the community’s lack of women and children and explores common social pursuits taken up by Chinatowns residents.

*Updated links to the Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A Story of Diversity, Racism and Arson on the Virtual Museum of Canada’s website will be provided on January 15th.

Copies of Dr. Chad Reimer’s book, Chilliwack’s Chinatowns: A History, are available for purchase at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.