A group of researchers at the University of British Columbia is readying the launch of a new educational website that aims to offer an interactive history of Chinese Canadians.
More than two years in the making, the site, Chinese Canadian Stories is due to be unveiled in January.
Henry Yu, who heads up the project, said he wanted a way to use a digital medium in order to make Chinese-Canadian stories more compelling.
“History textbooks aren’t sufficient enough nowadays,” said the professor of history at UBC and director of the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian studies (INSTRCC).
Video games, maps and more
Chinese Canadian Stories is a co-project among three North-American universities. UBC focuses on the research side, while Simon Fraser University covers its technical aspects. The third is Stanford University, whose Spatial History Lab maps the different paths taken by early Chinese immigrants to Canada.The Masters of Digital Media Program at Great Nothern Way Campus and the Critical Thinking Consortium are also part of this project.
The Canadian federal government’s Community Historical Recognition Program granted Chinese Canadian Stories $1.17 million in funds.
The new website will provide educational resources aimed at both pupils and teachers. Among other interactive tools, it features a video game for children between six and 12 years old: “Gold Mountain Quest” stars a Chinese-Canadian teenager living in an early 20th century mining village.
A digital collection of photos, videos, newspapers and historical documents is featured, as well as a map that displays the different historical Chinese communities throughout Canada.
A database has also been created containing the information of early Chinese immigrants. This research tool is based on the head tax, an entry fee that the Canadian government required for each Chinese immigrant between 1885 and 1949. It can be searched by name, profession, Chinese city of origin, where and when they arrived in Canada. It already contains almost 97,000 names.
The site will also a feature a selection of private letters from among those immigrant families. Researcher Joanne Poon sought the help of Chinese Canadian elderlies in order to translate them into English from Toishanese, a dialect spoken from Guangdong, China, from where most of them hailed.
A better focus on Chinese Canadians’ history
Allan Cho, a UBC librarian in charge of some of the technical aspects of the project, said that traditionally, stories of Chinese Canadians’ contribution to the country have largely focused on the railway and the Gold Rush. They made little mention of everyday life in Canadian Chinatowns.
“For instance, we rarely talk about market gardens, laundries and mixed marriages between Chinese and First Nations,” he said.
Prof. Yu said the idea for the site was prompted back in 2008 after the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the anti-Asian riots in Vancouver in 1907. But he stresses in an introductory video that the project is “not about what was done to the Chinese, but what they were doing.”
He said that the notion of Canada as a solely bicultural country is no longer resonant.
“The idea that Canada has been built only by the British and the French isn’t relevant anymore,” said Yu.
“It prevents people from being interested in Canadian history, mostly because they don’t recognize themselves in it.”