Jack Wong is a third-generation Vancouverite whose grandfather came to Canada in the 1800s.
Wong lives in Richmond now, but Vancouver’s Chinatown holds a special place in his heart.
“I remember coming to Chinatown as a kid. It was our home,” said Wong, a director and treasurer of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, a non-profit group that works to revitalize and preserve the cultural heritage of the historic neighbourhood.
One of the foundation’s projects is the establishment of the Chinatown Storytelling Centre, a purpose-built cultural space on 168 East Pender St., set to open in early 2020.
On Monday, the federal government announced it was investing $500,000 toward the building of the centre — part of nearly $5 million in infrastructure funding earmarked for 47 arts, culture and heritage organizations across the province.
“Every building, every alleyway, storefront and street sign has untold stories about the history of Vancouver’s Chinatown,” said Mary Ng, minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, who made the announcement at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden.
“Until now these stories had never really had a permanent home to showcase and honour the richness of this neighbourhood and the important contributions of Chinese-Canadians.”
The funds will go toward retrofitting the former Bank of Montreal building into a 4,000-square-foot facility that would feature permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, presentation spaces, and a shop with cultural and educational items.
The centre will highlight the experience of early Chinese-Canadian pioneers who helped build Vancouver and Canada, as well as share the more contemporary “living heritage” of the neighbourhood and its residents.
Permanent exhibits will include ones of the history of the trans-Canada railway, the creation of Chinatown, the impact of the head tax on Chinese-Canadians, the fight for citizenship and continuing challenges faced by Chinatowns in North America.
Wong said the centre isn’t going to be a museum. Instead of artifacts, stories are going to be front-and-centre.
“We’re going to ask people in the community to bring in their stories … some of the pioneering families they can come share their photos and stories, and that will be part of the exhibit,” he said.
The stories could be told through live presentations or videos, he explained. There could be photo and objects, but the focus would be less on the objects, but on the stories they tell.
The centre has a fundraising goal of $10 million. A representative of the foundation declined to say where the organization is at in terms of reaching that target. Perhaps more than the dollar amount, the funding is important because it signifies support from its partners, including the federal government.
“This shows that they have interest and they have the commitment to telling the historical stories of Chinese-Canadian history in this country,” said Wong.
The federal funding came from Canadian Heritage’s Canada Cultural Spaces Fund. Projects funded range from an accessibility lift at the Kitimat Museum and Archives to new lights at New Westminster’s Massey Theatre.
The largest grant, for more than $725,000, was given to the Vancouver Symphony Society for a digital concert-hall upgrade at the Orpheum Theatre.