Kamloops' Chinese community provides input on museum project

Kamloops was one of a handful of B.C. cities included in a series of consultation meetings with Chinese communities across the province to collect input on a proposed Chinese Canadian museum, with officials hearing from local residents on Saturday.

B.C. Minister of State for Trade George Chow, who is leading the series of five consultations, met with a group of approximately 40 people to collect input on what they would like to see in a Chinese Canadian museum.

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Participants expressed their thoughts on how the museum should operate, what it should look like and what content it should house.

Roundtable discussions produced a variety of recommendations to the province, including that the museum should appeal to youth and integrate with schools, interactive features be prominently featured and stories of those like First World War veteran Freddy Lee and former Kamloops Mayor Peter Wing, believed to have been the first mayor of Chinese descent in North America, be recorded and shared.

Joe Leong, former Kamloops city councillor and past president of the Kamloops Chinese Cultural Association, brought some of those issues to light at the meeting and is trying to make sure the stories of Kamloops’ Chinese community are told.

“I just want to make sure the museum is built to recognize Kamloops and the long Chinese history here and that everyone is involved with it,” he said.

“It’s not just Chinese history, it’s the history of Kamloops and its citizens.”

Freddy Lee Peter Wing
Kamloops Mayor Peter Wing, left, and First World War veteran Freddy Lee, right, were among the historical figures mentioned at Saturday's consultation session.

One idea already put forth by the ministry is a “hub and spoke” approach, where the museum hub is built in Vancouver and various “spokes” — local physical or digital collections where travelling exhibits may also be featured — are located in other cities with their own Chinese histories, like Kamloops.

Of the five consultations being conducted, Kamloops’ session was the only one scheduled in the Interior, with the other sessions taking place in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.

“Obviously we would like to have more consultations but we'd like to get the report completed by the end of spring, so we're on a tight timeline,” Chow told KTW.

Kamloops is a significant site in the Interior because of the number of Chinese railroad workers who remained following the completion of the Kamloops-Yale rail line. Many of those workers settled as part of the city's early Chinatown and were later buried in the Chinese cemetery.

“After talking to the mayor here in Kamloops and the Chinese community, I think there’s great potential in establishing a spoke or some kind of connection to the Chinese Canadian museum,” Chow said.

Chow joked that government will have to make a “hard decision” on how to proceed with the centre, given that one discussion group suggested the centre be financially independent and self-sustaining while another recommended that government “do it big.”

Three more public consultation meetings are scheduled. The next one is in Nanaimo on Jan. 25.

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