Victoria Chinese community reunion celebrates rich history

Victoria Chinese community reunion celebrates rich history
WatchHistory-changing accomplishments of Victoria's Chinese community celebrated at special reunion. Tess van Straaten reports.

It’s not your typical Saturday lunch.”We have a lot of firsts and we want to honour them and show our appreciation,” explains Victoria Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who helped organize the second annual Chinese community reunion.

Close to 200 people came out for the event, including some of the founding families of Victoria’s Chinese community.

Dating back to the mid-1800s, Canada’s oldest Chinatown is also the second oldest in North America.  And over the decades, the people who’ve called it home have changed history.

Douglas Jung was the first person of Asian decent, and the first visible minority, to become a member of parliament — beating out an incumbent cabinet minister in 1957.

“My father was considered a complete rank outsider,” says Jung’s son Arthur Calderwood. “My father pulled off the biggest upset in Canadian history and not only became the first Chinese Canadian to become a member of Parliament but the first Chinese Canadian in all of the Commonwealth ever to win an elected seat in a parliament.”

But despite being born in Victoria, he and his three brothers weren’t considered citizens.

Along with other young B.C. men of Chinese decent, they enlisted during World War II to change the status of all Chinese Canadians.

“Their volunteerism won citizenship and changed Canada’s history,” Calderwood says. “And that to me now, is the most remarkable thing.”

Chinatown’s Loy Sing Market has also made history. It’s not only the oldest Chinese business in Canada, but also the oldest still in existence in all of North America.

“We used to pluck duck feathers,” says Loy Sing’s granddaughter Bonnie Mar. “My brothers used to, after my mom would roast the duck, they would pull the wagon down Chinatown and deliver it to the stores so we’re proud of our heritage here.”

But racism was rampant in those days. Chinese couldn’t swim at the Crystal Pool, they had to go to segregated schools, and they couldn’t live in neighbourhoods like the Uplands. But the community persevered.

“Some were sad times with discrimination and hardship but mostly people saw it as an opportunity — opportunity for a better life for their children and grandchildren,” Thornton-Joe says.

And by sharing their stories at the reunion, they’re hoping to keep that storied past alive.
Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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