Shows

A Seat At The Table

If you visit Columbia and East Pender, you’ll find artist Cheng Shu Ren’s ‘Snapshots of History’ mural, created in 2010. ‘These murals,’ we read, ‘commemorate the history of the Chinese Canadians and recognize their significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada for over a century.’

Cheng Shu Ren (Arthur) was born in Nanchang and was lauded as an artist in Beijing. He moved to Canada in 1990 and, for this Snapshots mural, Cheng was initially inspired by photographs from the City of Vancouver’s archives. In it, you’ll see the deep history of Chinese Canadians running clothes-tending businesses. The header image above – of gentlemen sitting outside Y. Kee Cleaning & Pressing – was patterned after a 1936 photo from the City of Vancouver Archives. ‘Suits Repairing. Cleaning & Pressing.’

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Men sitting outside shallow building at Pender and Carrall Streets. 1936.
Photo: Matthews, James Skitt, Major


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Cheng Shu Ren’s Snapshots of History’ mural also includes:

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Based on..

Wah Chong family outside laundry business on Water Street. 1884
Photo: Matthews, James Skitt, Major.

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We can learn more about Chinese Canadian laundry entrepreneurs in A Seat At The Table – an exhibition project running at the Museum of Vancouver and the Hon Hsing Building in Chinatown. It’s an exhibit that catalogs both the tremendous contribution of Chinese immigrants to British Columbia, and the unimaginable barriers and ill-treatment they faced.

Professor Henry Yu, a member of the UBC History Department and Principal of St. John’s College, was a co-curator of A Seat At The Table.

One section of the exhibit focuses on ‘Washing Laundry for a Better Future’. Elwin Xie describes what it was like working for his father and uncle’s laundry business on 274 Union Street, a business that ran for 30 years. “As young children,” Elwin Xie says, “my brothers and sisters and I started folding small, fluffy items such as towels. In my elementary school years, I figured I was probably the only kid in school who had calluses on the palms of their hands as a result of long hours spent wrapping laundry with sisal twine.”

‘Running a small laundry business,’ we read in an exhibit description, ‘was a challenging but reliable economic avenue for early Chinese immigrants, who faced exclusion from many occupations until the 1970s. For Chinese Canadians with an entrepreneurial spirit, a little savings, limited English skills, and a readiness for gruelling physical work, laundries offered opportunity. Chinese-run laundries serviced work camps in late 19th century and eventually spread to small towns and large cities all over British Columbia.’

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From the MOV Exhibit

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A Seat at the Table extends broadly across the history of Chinese Canadians, with special emphasis on ‘food and restaurant culture as an entry point.’ Some other things you’ll see …

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A Seat At The Table @ MOV

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www.creatorsvancouver.com

 

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Elizabeth Newton

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