“I was born and raised in Montreal — very diverse ethnically, linguistically — very different from here.”
May Q. Wong is explaining how the idea for her book City in Colour came to her.
“I came here 40 years ago, and at that time, Victoria was known as ‘more English than the English.’ But when I started doing some research, I found that that wasn’t always so.
“And I just started looking at stories and I found some really interesting stories — things that I’d never heard about, people I’d never known about — and I thought, these are stories that need to be told, that need to be heard.”
The stories Wong is referring to are about people of colour who settled in Victoria and the surrounding region.
“Some of them were just family stories, such as Mariah Mahoi, and the stories about the Kanakas, the Hawaiians who lived on Saltspring Island.”
Touchwood Editions has published City in Colour.
“I consider this book to be so important because we are literally inundated with books about white settlers – and that is valuable information, we’re pleased to have it — but there’s a lack of information about the other people who settled this city, who contributed a lot, and there’s fascinating stories to be told there,” says Touchwood Editions publisher Taryn Boyd.
Wong is pleased with the public’s reception to her book, and says book readings “have been well attended, and people have been really interested in hearing about these stories.”
Boyd agrees. “Victoria has an amazing community of people who love literature. They’re writers, and they’re readers.”
Wong used numerous archive sources to research her book. “We have so many fantastic repositories of information, like the library, the Victoria archives, the city archives, the museum archives, and there are individual groups that have archives as well, that are just wonderful.”
“The Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) is one of the oldest repositories of research material in this area,” says Carl Cavanagh, from the GVPL, “which is why we have a steady stream of people coming through, researching books just like May’s.
“The [GVPL] Heritage Room” Cavanagh continues, “is full of amazing research for readers, scholars… the history of this region. We’re talking about literature, we’re talking about non-fiction of various kinds, biographies and documents.
“At the end of the day, we are story-telling creatures. We love listening to stories, we love creating them” says Cavanagh with a proud smile.
“I wanted to remind people that Canada, especially, was built by immigrants,” says Wong, “and that we should continue to celebrate and learn about them, and know about their contributions to Victoria.”