Walking Through Time: Celebrating One Year of Canada’s First and Only Chinese Canadian Museum

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Photo © Ian Kobylanski, Koby Photography

Connecting to the Chinese Canadian Experience

As the first anniversary of its grand opening approaches, the Chinese Canadian Museum, Canada’s first and only museum dedicated to Chinese-Canadian stories, is gearing up for another year of amplifying cultural heritage.

Housed in the Wing Sang Building—the oldest brick building in Vancouver’s Chinatown—the Chinese Canadian Museum is filled with rich history, right down to the infrastructure. The museum offers visitors a journey through Chinese-Canadian experiences, from the earliest migrations to contemporary contributions. While the exterior exudes historical charm, the spacious interior seamlessly blends old-world elements with modern gallery spaces. A visit to the museum is a chance to delve into captivating exhibitions that shed light on pivotal moments in Chinese-Canadian history.

A Walk Through The Past

The museum invites visitors to step back in time and immerse themselves in three thought-provoking exhibitions: “Odysseys and Migration” on the first floor, “The Paper Trail to the 1923 Exclusion Act” on the second, and “Period Rooms: Historic School Room and Living Room” on the third. The museum offers guided tours in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, ensuring accessibility to visitors of different backgrounds.

Odysseys and Migration

This exhibition recounts some of the unique journeys in Chinese Canadian history, from the 18th century to the present day. From Chinese-Indigenous relations since 1788 to the multiple migration waves between Hong Kong and Vancouver to 20th-21st-century migrations from countries across the world, including South Africa, Thailand, and Singapore, this introductory exhibition serves as a prelude for sharing the integral role and unique identities of Chinese diasporas in Canada.

chinese canadian museum
© William Luk
The Paper Trail to the 1923 Exclusion Act

Marking a century since the enactment of the discriminatory Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act in Canada, this exhibition offers a poignant exploration of the struggles and resilience of Chinese Canadians during this dark chapter in Canadian history.

Curated by Catherine Clement, this community-sourced exhibition probes the nature of paperwork and documentation over the contested terrain of history. A diverse array of families of Chinese descent from across Canada contributed to the exhibition.

Period Rooms: Historic School Room and Living Room

On the third floor, meticulously recreated period rooms transport guests to bygone eras. Here, amidst the echoes of the past, the oldest school room in Vancouver offers a tangible connection to the community’s educational heritage.

Take a seat in a recreated 1930s living room. Play music on the phonograph or pick up the rotary phone to hear memories of life in the Wing Sang Building. As you explore, reflect on how you connect to the people and places of your past. Don’t forget to take your portrait as part of a historic class photo as a keepsake.

© Rachel Topham
© Courtesy of Chinese Canadian Museum

Bridging Past, Present, and Future

Beyond its role as a repository of history, the museum serves as a platform for amplifying the voices of Chinese Canadians. Through its exhibitions, the museum shares stories and showcases the talents of Chinese-Canadian creators and small businesses in the gift shop. Visitors have the opportunity to support these endeavours while gaining a deeper appreciation for the community’s diverse contributions.

After your visit, why not extend your experience by immersing yourself further in Vancouver’s Chinatown? Indulge in the neighbourhood’s vibrant culture and support local businesses serving up mouthwatering dishes and selling unique products. It’s the perfect ending to a truly unforgettable museum trip.

Visit chinesecanadianmuseum.ca/visit for tickets and more information on current exhibitions.

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The Chinese Canadian Museum’s Vancouver locationis now permanently at home inside the Wing Sang Building, with the official public opening on July 1, 2023. Originally built in 1889 by Chinese merchant Yip Sang for his business “Wing Sang Company”, the Wing Sang Building is the oldest structure in Vancouver’s Chinatown. This heritage building expanded in 1902 and 1912 and housed Yip Sang’s growing family including three wives and 23 children. 

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