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A guided tour of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is an eye-opening treat for visitors to Vancouver’s Chinatown, revealing a beautiful site rich with cultural heritage and significance. Leading these tours are a team of dedicated volunteer docents, some of whom have been introducing visitors to the Garden for over ten years. We sat down with longtime docents Lisa Wong, Wendy Ross, Claire Lloyd, and Allan Cho to talk about their experience volunteering at the Garden:
Do you remember what brought you to the Garden?
Lisa: Growing up in Vancouver, Chinatown was always a huge part of my childhood. My grandfather came to Canada in 1906 and lived in Chinatown. He was actually a Dr. Sun supporter and went to see him when he came to Vancouver! So sharing this place and Chinese history is a way for me to give back to the community.
Wendy: I had always loved the Chinatown in Victoria, where I grew up, and felt the same way when I moved to Vancouver. Having and supporting a historic Chinatown is so important, especially with all the changes happening in the city. I used to be an elementary school teacher, and I would always bring classes here on field trips.
Claire: I didn’t have any connection with Chinatown, but had just arrived in Canada from the UK. Like Wendy, I have a teaching background, so I felt that being a docent was something that I could do. I’d also traveled in China and was interested in learning more about the culture.
Allan: My interest stems from my studies in history. It was important for me to connect back to the city, and Chinatown in particular, where the Garden is a real constant. I also thought being a docent would be a great opportunity to improve my public speaking skills.
Leading visitors on a tour of the garden. (Photo: Deanna Chan)
Why is it important for you to introduce people to the Garden and Chinatown?
Claire: Coming from Europe, where there is a sense of history everywhere, I really miss that here in Vancouver. I hope that visitors and locals don’t miss out on the history of Chinatown and other heritage places! I think it’s important to show people this area, as a lot of the city’s roots are here and it’s still a living community, with the Garden as a continuance of this story.
Lisa: For me, it has to do with having a connection with Chinatown and its significance with the community that built it. I want to help people see the beauty, importance, and relevance of Chinatown.
Is there a tour moment that really stands out to you?
Lisa: A few years ago, I did a tour with a family with three teenage boys during the Christmas holidays. Since they were the only people on the tour, we were able to take our time and I even had them line up for family photographs at different points. I wasn’t sure if the boys were that interested at first, but I could see them get on board as we went along, and it was very fun and rewarding.
Wendy: This happened two summers ago. I brought my tour group up close to see a group of turtles in the pond. At the same time, a heron flew down from the roof and landed very close to the baby turtle. As the heron paddled closer and closer to the turtle, my whole group started making noises to make the heron leave. Suddenly, from around the corner, one of the largest koi headed straight for the heron! It kept pushing against it until the heron finally got fed up and flew away. After that, nothing I could say was of much interest!
What have you enjoyed most about being a docent and volunteering at the Garden?
Lisa: I almost feel selfish because I get so much out of it! I just love meeting people, talking about the garden, and spending time here.
Wendy: I love showing people this wonderful place hidden in the city that isn’t widely known about. I really enjoy seeing people appreciate the Garden and their amazement at all the symbolism and meanings in the design. I feel a sense of belonging here, and it makes me feel like I’m still part of the city.
Allan: I also feel like I’m part of the city, part of a family in a dedicated organization. It’s been great getting to meet all sorts of people, sometimes from as far as Australia and New Zealand.
Claire: For me, the Garden is a place that I always come back to. I’ve learned a lot about Chinese culture and society related to the Garden, Chinatown, and the city’s history. I can’t imagine ever leaving – it’s been so connected with my time here in Vancouver. I feel very proud to work here.
Left to right: Claire Lloyd, Allan Cho, Wendy Ross, and Lisa Wong