UVIc to resurrect Chinese Canadian artifacts

Database will make history accessible to residents and researchers

Zhongping Chen

A database is expected to launch this winter as the Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project officially finished the first phase with an announcement at the University of Victoria last Thursday.

Historical documents and artifacts “hidden away” for more than a century will become information in the public realm.

“That was a terrible shame, because over the years Chinese Canadians have made a tremendous contribution to the economic and social development of our province,” said Teresa Wat, minister of international trade and minister responsible for the Asia Pacific strategy and multiculturalism. She made the announcement of phase one’s completion last week at UVic.

It is a milestone in the creation of the first computerized inventory of Chinese historical records and artifacts in B.C. Step one of a pilot project involving the Cumberland Museum and Archives and the Nanaimo Museum is complete, and will inform the work to establish an online database of artifacts.

Cumberland Museum and Archives and Nanaimo Museum were chosen for the pilot project because of their regions’ historically large Chinese populations. There will be 10 or more museums involved in inventories moving forward with a total of $75,000 allocated for the project.

“This will culminate in a digital database that will include the inventories of Chinese Canadian artifacts from all the museums that participated in this project. The database will be available to the public and researchers alike so that everyone can access this rich cultural history,” said Wat. “By bringing attention to the artifacts held in museums across B.C. the untold stories of the Chinese Canadian experience will come to light, many for the first time in communities throughout British Columbia.”

With the first phase complete, UVic has embarked on a new endeavour, in association with the BC Museums Association and in partnership with the Nanaimo Museum and the Cumberland Museum and Archives, to compile a publicly accessible database of Chinese Canadian artifacts held by local museums in B.C. for use by libraries and museums.

The inventory contains culturally significant artifacts including Chinese coins, scrolls, photographs and historic texts. One of the most interesting finds is a 90-drawer apothecary chest used by a drugstore owner in Nanaimo’s Chinatown to store ingredients for herbal and mineral treatments in traditional Chinese medicine.

“The artifacts inventory database will become an invariable resource for all British Columbians. It will become part of a legacy – a legacy that will honour and reflect in a very tangible way the contribution made by British Columbians, Chinese Canadians,” Wat said. “We can all be proud of the role we will play in helping to honour those Chinese Canadians who where discriminated against in the past and who helped shape B.C.’s future.”

Dr. John Price and Dr. Zhongping Chen of the Department of History at UVic will lead CCAP, in association with Dr. Tusa Shea of the Cultural Resource Management Program.

“We consider this project to be a sacred trust that will allow us with our partners to highlight the resilience and contributions of Chinese Canadian communities and their allies in the past 160 years,” said Price. “We will build on the efforts of local museums by making accessible to all British Columbians the inventories of Chinese Canadian artifacts held in museums throughout the province as well as an index of historical buildings. It will also help museums and archives better identify some of the artifacts that they hold, further organize their CC collections and provide to museums and libraries, free of charge, a publicly accessible database of the artifacts with photos, essential background details and clear instructions on how to find related information on each and every one of the artifacts.”

Participating museums start with training workshops next month that focus on Chinese Canadian/Asian Canadian history as well as technical dimensions of the database creation. Throughout the duration of this 10-month research project that started in February, team members will continue to liaise with museums, provide museum training support and supervise student involvement from the CRMP.

They expect to launch the database by winter.

“This project will highlight the many historical treasures that Chinese Canadians brought to and contributed to the province over the past 150 years,” said Chen, Department of History research director. “Scattered in dozens of smaller towns and cities, they will now be accessible to all British Columbians and become our province’s common heritage. Hopefully more people will donate their precious heirlooms to local museums.”

The project is soliciting expressions of interest from local and regional museums and archives with Chinese Canadian holdings. For further information email ccap@uvic.ca.

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com