“’In my opinion, the Chinese have been left out of our local history due to carelessness. Those people cleared an awful lot of the land around Chilliwack…’” Bob Maitland (Chilliwack’s Chinatowns, p.186)
Over the last few weeks I’ve been immersing myself in the history of Chilliwack’s Chinatowns, reading Chad Reimer’s book Chilliwack’s Chinatowns and learning about this somewhat lost history of our city. I’ve been working with a fantastic group of dedicated elementary teachers from School District 33 to develop a local history kit focusing on this topic for use in classrooms. This is why I love Bob Maitland’s quote from the book; we’re planning to shine light on this important piece of our city’s history so that it isn’t lost again.
But Chilliwack’s Chinatowns is a bit of a tough read for elementary students. So how do we take all of this great research and archival documents and make it teacher and student friendly? Learning about local communities in the past and present is an important part of the curriculum, as well as studying the contributions of people from different backgrounds in shaping Canada’s identity. Learning more about the contributions of the Chinese community in the growth of Chilliwack is an important topic and we’ve been working hard to find ways to bring it into the classroom in a meaningful way.
Historical documents show that Chinese were arriving in Chilliwack at the same time as many Europeans. Many found work for white landowners clearing the land for farming. Chinese labourers cleared a lot of land in Chilliwack and began to settle in the area. Many leased land of their own and grew market gardens, eventually a distinct Chinatown emerged in Chilliwack as Chinese opened their own businesses and came together as a community. Discriminatory government policies restricted many Chinese from becoming Canadian citizens and from bringing their families from China to join them. Chilliwack’s Chinese community was not immune to this and did face discrimination from the wider population.
As we dig through the documents and newspaper articles which help tell the story of this community, we have been selecting sources and information which will help students to uncover this history themselves as well. Being able to critically look at primary sources from the past and ask questions about that source is an important skill to learn. Using local resources that help students learn about the place where they live makes the work all the more meaningful. Once this kit is completed, I am hoping to continue working on developing more resources based on local history for teachers to use in the classroom, continuing to help make our museum and archives more accessible to teachers and students.
Are you interested in learning more about Chilliwack’s Chinatowns? You can pick up a copy of Chad Reimer’s book in our gift shop or buy it online!