Chinese Historic Places Recognition Project
Chinese workers began arriving in the territory that would become British Columbia as early as 1788 in support of the fur trade industry. With the discovery of gold in the Fraser Valley in 1857 Chinese workers from San Francisco joined the thousands of workers in the gold rush, as well as workers directly from China. With the decline of the gold rush in the 1860s, Chinese workers continued to migrate to British Columbia, drawn by opportunities in diverse industries and service businesses.
Chinese migrants quickly established a presence in communities across British Columbia. However, anti-Chinese rhetoric and racism in British Columbia resulted in discriminatory legislation in 1871, and widespread legal, professional, labour and social discrimination against Chinese in British Columbia society.
The Province of British Columbia extended an official apology to Chinese Canadians in May 2014 for the past historical wrongs. The Chinese Historic Places Recognition Project is one of eight Legacy Initiatives, and grew out of the recommendations in the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Report, to "identify historical sites and culturally important locations and artifacts," and to "commemorate the positive contribution of Chinese Canadians to B.C.'s history, culture and prosperity."
Heritage BC worked with the Ministry of International Trade (MIT), the Heritage Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO), and members of the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council (LIAC) to create a nomination form available on Heritage BC's website. The public was invited from January 22 to March 2, 2015 to submit nominations of historic places with connections to the heritage of B.C.'s Chinese Canadian community that have contributed to the history and development of the province. The nominated places were evaluated by a committee and a list of places recommended for official recognition by the Province of B.C.
The public response and participation was excellent - 138 nominations were received from the public, representing 77 distinct historic places in B.C. The nominated places truly demonstrated how Chinese Canadians have been present in virtually every corner of British Columbia, from large urban centres to what are now ghost towns in B.C.'s interior. Along with the geographic diversity the nominated places represent diverse types of places, including cemeteries, Chinese Canadian community hubs, places related to industry and agriculture, as well as cultural, spiritual, social and educational places. The report Recognizing Chinese Canadians in British Columbia details each of the nominated places.
Our Interactive Map details the 77 nominated places, with information about location, description and history, images, heritage values, and links to more information. The sites that have been provincially recognized include Statements of Significance that outline their heritage values. The historic places have been grouped into categories:
Clan Association Sites
As more people of Chinese heritage came to British Columbia, clan associations were formed to help the newcomers assimilate in their adopted homeland and to provide friendship and support.
The buildings owned by clan associations were built with an eclectic blend of architectural styles, both Western and Chinese, and many of them contained unique features including recessed balconies and long narrow building footprints.
These historic places are primarily significant for their association Chinese Canadians as workers in industrial activities, including predominantly mining and railway construction.
Chinese Canadians also contributed to the development of British Columbia through various agricultural activities as demonstrated by these historic places.
Community Hubs and Clusters
As a group or type, Chinese communities were found to have significant heritage value everywhere in the province. Chinese communities, enclaves and neighbourhoods are significant for their ubiquity; they are present in every community and region of the province, an indication that the Chinese were involved in every aspect of life in B.C. In some cases, Chinatowns were recognized; named and physically delineated Chinatowns were a fixture in some of the larger cities and towns in B.C., such as Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster. These Chinatowns were sometimes segregated from the ethnic European (mostly British) settlements, often sharing margins that featured other ethnic populations faced with discriminatory practices – for example, First Nations communities. In many towns, communities and settlements the Chinese population’s residences, businesses and places of work were grouped into enclaves or neighbourhoods, clustered around places of work, such as mills or farms, or were spatially dispersed throughout the community. Chinese residential enclaves or bunkhouses were a common fixture of remote workplaces like canneries, mining camps, and construction sites. Chinese communities are important for their association to the province’s industrial development and took on many forms, as bunkhouses in canneries, enclaves clustered near mine sites or tent communities that were a feature of moving camps, for example for the construction of the CPR. A more detailed description of the heritage values of Chinese Canadian Community Hubs and Clusters can be found in the document Chinese Canadian Historic Places Statements of Significance for Shortlisted Historic Places.
As a group or type, Chinese cemeteries have significant heritage value everywhere in the province. Often, they are the only remnant or reminder of the Chinese living and working in B.C. towns. Chinese cemeteries were usually an extension of early settlements, and represent the traditions and spiritual values associated with Chinese culture in B.C. Many early cemeteries show evidence of bodies being removed and repatriated to China, a common practice at the time. They are symbolic of the discrimination and segregation of the Chinese, as Chinese burials were often not welcome in other cemeteries or were placed in segregated sections. Today, cemeteries play a role in commemorating the contribution of the Chinese to the province. A more detailed description of the heritage values of Chinese Canadian Cemeteries can be found in the document Chinese Canadian Historic Places Statements of Significance for Shortlisted Historic Places.
Provincially Recognized Sites
21 of the nominated historic places were selected to be recommended for formal recognition. Each of this historic places has a complete Statement of Significance outlining the heritage values of the historic site. Information for each of these 21 historic places can be found in the document Chinese Canadian Historic Places Statements of Significance for Shortlisted Historic Places.
Cultural and Spiritual Sites
These historic places are associated with cultural and spiritual traditions and activities for Chinese Canadians.