Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Barkerville Historic Town are pleased to present Who Am I? – Bridging the Pacific: from Guangdong to Barkerville and back, an exhibition that examines the history of the Chinese immigrants who came to Barkerville, British Columbia in the late 19th and early 20th century to mine and carry out business. The exhibition features historical archival photographs and portraits by Chow Dong Hoy, a Chinese-Canadian photographer known for his startling, evocative documentation of First Nations, Chinese, and Caucasian subjects. These photos, along with dioramas, an interactive computer kiosk and bilingual book, depict the lives of the Chinese immigrants in the Cariboo region during the Gold Rush.
Some of these Chinese immigrants returned home to China and some made new homes in Canada. Who am I? will explore these people’s lives, aspirations and work. It will also ask the question: Who were they as individuals? History has treated them as a group and few details, including their names, have been recorded. This exhibition intends to reach out to these people’s descendants and gather stories to identify who they were, where they came from and went to, how they lived and when. By doing this, it is hoped that a greater understanding of the Chinese in the Cariboo will be achieved.
The exhibition will be on view at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden from December 11, 2012 to January 14, 2013 inside the Hall of One Hundred Rivers.
CONNECTION TO CHINA
During the Cariboo Gold Rush, thousands of people from all over the world stampeded up the Fraser River to Barkerville in search of gold. One of the largest migrations was from the Wuyi County districts in Guangdong province in southern China. The Chinese, almost exclusively men, were involved in many mining ventures and businesses, often as labourers.
Barkerville’s beautifully preserved Chinatown, its Chinese cemetery and its extensive collection of archival records, photographs, and artifacts – many brought to the Cariboo by immigrants from Guangdong – now comprise the oldest and largest collection of Chinese buildings and artifacts in North America. This includes the largest collection of pre-1900 written documents that are specific to North American activities and the oldest Chee Kung Tong building in Canada, which was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2009. As western North America’s largest living history museum, Barkerville is rich with Chinese-Canadian history.
Today, the people in Guangdong Province still feel incredibly connected to the “Overseas Chinese” who left Guangdong in the 19th and early 20th century. The money they sent back to their families and to support a variety of charitable organizations changed the face of Guangdong, resulting in significant economic and social development. Much of the interest is on a more personal level, though. There is a sincere desire to know more about the emigrants: the work they did, how they lived, and where their remains were buried. Nearly 75% of the men who came to North America never returned, and many Chinese have at least one such ancestor who continued to send familial support to China.
Barkerville’s collections have an increasingly important role to play in building bridges between cultures and linking our past to our future. Barkerville has been praised by Chinese officials for its excellence in preserving and presenting the history of the Chinese emigrants. The buildings, photographs and archival material tell stories that have been lost on the other side of the Pacific.