Toronto ar­chive to tell sto­ries of city’s Chi­nese

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By KELSEY CHENG in Toronto For China Daily

If you’re a Chi­nese Cana­dian liv­ing in Toronto, the city’s pub­lic li­brary wants you to dig into your par­ents’ and grand­par­ents’ at­tics, their shoe­boxes, their clos­ets and their base­ments — any­where they keep their mem­o­ries.

The Toronto Pub­lic Li­brary is ask­ing the pub­lic to do­nate all types of ephemera to build the city’s first phys­i­cal Chi­nese-Cana­dian ar­chive. Items they are look­ing for in­clude un­pub­lished ma­te­ri­als such as let­ters, pho­tos, di­aries, manuscripts, cer­tifi­cates, awards, paint­ings, scrap­books, le­gal doc­u­ments, maps, even au­dio and video files.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2011 Na­tional House­hold Sur­vey, Chi­nese Cana­di­ans are the sec­ond largest vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity group in Toronto, mak­ing up 11 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

The first regis­tered Chi­nese in Toronto were found in the 1877-1878 city direc­tory, in­di­cat­ing two laun­dry busi­nesses owned by Sam Ching and Wo Kee, ac­cord­ing to re­searcher Jeff Wat­son in his ar­ti­cle An Early His­tory of the Chi­nese in Toronto. Sam Ching and Co was lo­cated on Ade­laide Street East, be­tween Yonge Street and Victoria Street, while Wo Kee laun­dry was lo­cated at Yonge and Gerrard streets in to­day’s down­town Toronto.

Lead­ing the project is Suk Yin Ng, who im­mi­grated from Hong Kong in 1973. Ng be­lieves the project is a mean­ing­ful way to doc­u­ment and cap­ture the com­mu­nity’s past.

“We want to see the ac­tiv­i­ties th­ese Chi­nese im­mi­grants par­tic­i­pated in, their life­style, and even how they dressed,” Ng said. “Ear­lier on, it was re­ally dif­fi­cult for the Chi­nese to be ac­cepted and in­te­grated in the main­stream so­ci­ety, let alone to in­ter­act with the lo­cal Cana­dian com­mu­nity.”

Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada’s Eth­nic Di­ver­sity sur­vey in 2002, more than 1 in 3 Chi­nese Cana­di­ans re­ported that they had ex­pe­ri­enced dis­crim­i­na­tion or un­fair treat­ment based on their eth­nic­ity, race, lan­guage or ac­cent in the past five years, es­pe­cially at work or ap­ply­ing for a job.

“With­out their blood, sweat, tears, lone­li­ness, suf­fer­ing, life won’t be as easy for us to­day,” Ng said.

Once the ar­chive is built, the goal of the li­brary is to main­tain and pre­serve the col­lec­tion, and ul­ti­mately pro­vide ac­cess to the gen­eral pub­lic in an ex­hibit. She is cur­rently reach­ing out to dif­fer­ent Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties in the city and is hop­ing to gen­er­ate a pos­i­tive re­ac­tion.

So far, Ng said the sup­port from the com­mu­nity has been tremen­dous.

“Peo­ple seem to think that this is an im­por­tant and wor­thy project,” she said. “This is such an ex­cit­ing, yet hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The li­brary re­cently re­ceived a do­na­tion of a 4-foot-long panoramic black-and-white photo of the ninth an­nual pic­nic of the Chi­nese Chris­tian youth group at Cen­tre Is­land, taken in 1919.

Ng be­lieves photographs like those are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant and sen­ti­men­tal to older Chi­nese-Cana­dian gen­er­a­tions of Toronto, who mostly per­formed hard labour upon ar­riv­ing in the coun­try.

“I be­lieve we cre­ate com­mu­nity con­nec­tions through cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences and ex­changes like th­ese,” she said. “Cul­tural di­ver­sity makes our so­ci­ety more in­ter­est­ing, and to­gether as a com­mu­nity, we con­trib­ute and build it and make it a bet­ter so­ci­ety for ev­ery­one.”

The Toronto Pub­lic Li­brary also will be host­ing pro­grams for the Chi­nese- Cana­dian com­mu­nity in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber, called “Ar­chive in Your At­tic: Dis­cov­er­ing Your Fam­ily Trea­sures” to pro­mote the project and to en­cour­age the pub­lic to start dig­ging for the hid­den trea­sures.

“We want the younger gen­er­a­tion to learn about what their great-great-grand­par­ents have sac­ri­ficed for them,” Ng said. “We ac­cept any­thing from one sin­gle do­na­tion to boxes of do­na­tions — even your grand­par­ents’ tick­ets to the Chi­nese opera.”



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