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A Critical Eye on ‘Canadians for Reconciliation’

Our Chinese Canadian Pioneers

I am having a real problem writing this post. I am a white guy and as my ancestors came to New Westminster in 1909. I am one of the very, veeery few New Westminsterites whose oldsters may have actually participated in active or passive discrimination of Chinese Pioneers in this city’s past.

I fully understand my position in this story but as a bleeding heart liberal and as a BC elementary and secondary student whose history education consisted of French Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians, Chinese Canadians and South Asian Canadians to the exclusion of all else, I have been fully conditioned to feel guilty, sympathetic and responsible.

I understand that by simply raising the following issue here, I could be branded a reactionary or a racist but in fact, I would be the first to support reasonable measures to honour the contributions of historically marginalized groups. I would feel more comfortable, however, if the voice calling for action also had an echo of credibility. It is time for a critical view.

By a critical view, I mean to be open-minded and not take anything for granted. I am not here to criticize per se, but I do believe there has been a real lack of true reporting on the claims and demands made by Bill Chu, founder, chair and spokesperson of ‘Canadians for Reconciliation,’ a Christian organization dedicated in the past to a religious reconciliation, and more recently to the reconciliation of ‘society’ with the stories and worth of Chinese and Aboriginal Canadians and the past abuses of those groups by historical British Columbians and now, New Westminsterites.

Like any good spokesperson, Chu is great at getting press releases published and getting interviews in local media. I have heard him on the radio twice and he has had articles and news stories in the local papers more times than I could count (Record, Leader, Georgia Straight, Province and I think the Sun). In all such cases, the report is simply a blind acceptance of the position and opinion of Bill Chu, a Canadian arriving from Hong Kong in the 1980’s, and no actual investigation into the veracity of what he says. I say, there should have been questions asked that were not.

  • Are the remains of early Chinese Canadians buried at the NWSS site?
  • Did New Westminster turn the Chinese Benevolent association building into a dog park?
  • Has the education of our children excluded the story of the Chinese Community?
  • Has nothing been done to reconcile our past and honour the legacy of Chinese Pioneers?
  • Is Mr Chu a descendant of the Chinese Canadian pioneer community? Does he officially represent the claims of this community?

In many of his interviews and articles and statements, I have found the claims of Bill Chu to be misleading and sometimes false and his demands to be irresponsible, irrelevant and made without the input of the descendants of early Chinese Canadians. He seems dismissive to the needs and welfare of the community here in New Westminster and I am of the opinion that no matter what commemorative or reconciliation activities may have happened in the past, if it was not at the hands of Bill Chu, they just won’t cut it.

Claims

City of New Westminster shows “reluctance to acknowledge” historical discrimination against Chinese residents”

I don’t see it. It is covered in all of the museums, a special feature is about to be unveiled in the Fraser River discovery center and every review of our city’s history had a prominent position for the stories of our Chinese Pioneers. The subject is covered endlessly in our city’s schools, our Mayor and Council have reached out to communities in China and elsewhere and a committee for multiculturalism works actively in the city. What is more, New Westminster is a multicultural city with a pluralist view and population. Our city includes Chinese Canadians as equals, not as outsiders.

New Westminster Senior Secondary built on Chinese Graves

Kind of true. There was a Chinese Cemetery in part of the cemetery that is under part of the NWSS school site. The practice was to inter the body for a few years and then ship the exhumed remains to China for final burial. It is projected by city historians and by Chu himself that the likelihood that remains still exist is low. This cemetery and the other grave areas on the site were built over during WW2 by the federal government for use by the army as a camp. After the war, NWSS was built. The fact that there was a (multi-ethnic) cemetery there was not forgotten, but it did not stop the building of the school. There is a lesson in that.

Chinese Benevolent Association Building site turned into a dog park by City, Mayor and Council

Well there is a dog park there. Apparently, before the 1920s, the swampy semi-tidal land that is now between the Spaghetti Factory and the old London Drugs site was a China Town. I remember a story that McInes St was built with rail road ties that had to be replenished every few years as the swamp sucked them up. I would bet there is not much left to find after a century of suction and the construction of the Quay, New Westminster Station, the overpass, 8 high-rise towers, Fogg Motors (gone) London Drugs (gone) and various industrial and automotive businesses. The idea that the dog park was built over the Benevolent Association site is a real stretch as that site has been a crackilakin’ weed patch for the last 5 years and a light industrial building before that.

Carnarvon dog park emotionally damaging to Chinese Canadians because of whites only dog parks in China’s past

I don’t even know what to make of this one. China made dog parks that were for whites only? Why? Is that something we should have known about? Is the suggestion that we are intentionally rubbing salt in the wounds of Chinese Canadians? Is the multi-ethnic, pluralistic society of New Westminster now to blame for this bizarre occurrence in China that took place decades ago?

Demands

City of New Westminster: Enact a Chinese Heritage Week

OK, I am sold on this one. Lots of ethnic communities put a real great events together in this city.  Our position as an affordable, central and dense community with lots of community service institutions means that we have large populations of new Canadians from Africa, the Caribbean, East and South Asia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. We also have vibrant Aboriginal and Western European populations. I think council should proclaim a Chinese Heritage event. Like the Caribbean community does, the Chinese Community could organize a family-oriented public event that is fun for everyone and promotes inter-cultural understanding.

During this Chinese Heritage Week, Schools in District #40 will be taught all about the Chinese Story in New Westminster.

Besides not being in the power of City Council in the first place, I should point out that there is precious little local curriculum of any kind in the school system in the first place. When I was in high school, when Provincial and Canadian history was taught at all, it was focused almost exclusively on the history of our marginalized and minority Canadians until about grade 11 and 12.

All excavation of Chinatown area be accompanied by an archeologist

Way too expensive and it only serves the interests of the group demands it as the whole area has been built over at least once already and anything else is under the 10 meters of fill used to make the land a former swamp

A memorial park to Chinese Pioneers must be built on the NWSS site.

Chinese Nationalist League Building, New Westminster 1946

In a city as dense and small as ours, where almost every contentious community issue comes down to the lack of available land, we have already been told that a portion of the New Westminster Secondary School site must be reserved as a passive park, over the Cemetery. Despite what the needs of the community are, the status of portions of that site as an active cemetery mean that this must happen. Ideally, this passive park will include a monument that will honour all of the pioneer populations that used the space as a cemetery and it will be incorporated as part of the graceful open spaces used by the students and teachers of NWSS.

This city is in a gut-wrenching stage of its history as our school system seems to be imploding, buildings are falling apart, recently forgotten cemeteries stymie plans to move ahead while we are forced to slash teachers, support staff and even close schools. While it is important to give honour where honour is due, can we allow it to be at the expense of the whole community; a multi-ethnic community that we all belong to? Should the voice or claims of one person outweigh the needs of a city?

I think no. I think the city should reach out to the actual descendants of our Chinese Canadian pioneers to determine if the last few decades of correcting our history and understanding of the Chinese Canadian story has allowed them to feel like whole citizens. Should we ask them whether we need to gnaw over old bones and dig up old wrongs or is this just needless self flagellation?

If there is a real feeling that a commemoration should occur, let’s look to one that doesn’t pit one ethnicity against another or ascribe shame to a pluralistic city filled with people whose ancestors, except for me and perhaps a hundred other citizens, had nothing at all to do with the challenges or opportunities of the past.

Post Script: Look, this is my opinion here and it is not necessarily shared by the blog Tenth to the Fraser or by the other authors. There is a comment section of this post. Fill it up if you disagree or agree. I am an even minded type of person. I can admit if I have some of this wrong. Share some evidence with me if you think I should know about it. Until then, “I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”

Sources:  much of what I am quoting and referencing here has been on the radio, in the Record, Leader and Province but for right now, I am only referencing this article in the Georgia Straight and this one in the Record.

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Posted in Growing up in NW, History, Issues, New Westminster, NW in the news, Politics, Schools, Tenth To The Fraser.

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16 Responses

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  1. Dave Lundy says

    There seemed to be some reaching out to the Chinese community during the recent Hyack festival, with the massive inclusion of the community into the Parade. In terms of the memorial, does it have to built onto the site of NWSS? Perhaps something can be done in Queens Park. There seems to be alot more space for something to be put there, as opposed to the school site. And also perhaps something can be looked into to establish some prominence of the memorial within the park.

    Let's be honest and truthful here though. Our society has come a long way in terms of racism and the behaviours that existed so long ago. There's only so many amends that can be made, formal apologies made, and the like. But contrary to what some people believe can happen in New Westminster, you can't turn back the clock and right the wrong. You can apologize on behalf of those that came before us, that built the railway using cheap Chinese and Irish labour at the time, and that did the things they did in the various communities throughout what is know Greater Vancouver. But how far do we as a society go? I believe that an apology and recognition of past wrongs is the right way to go, perhaps along with a memorial in a revered place in New West such as Queens Park or maybe even friendship gardens? We should never forget our passed history. At the same time, the world moves forward, people become more tolerant and people move on.

  2. Dave Lundy says

    Just another note on the "Canadians for reconciliation" there's a split in the Chinese community over the head tax issue. I was at a presentation at the Vancouver and District Labour Council a few months ago, which this was discussed. Bill Chu doesn't speak for the Chinese community as a whole. And therefore people need to really think things through over these issues.

  3. Jill Schweitzer says

    Very thoughtful and thought-provoking article…did you see the opinion piece by Daphne Bramham on the front page of the Sun today? Might be worth sending her your two cents as she certainly seems to take Bill Chu's claims at face value.

  4. Ian Robertson says

    To Mr. Will Tomkinson

    I have read and enjoyed your article about Mr. Chu and have only this to say. And this is not a racist comment. I find it highly objectional that an immigrant like Mr Chu comes to Canada and criticizes our country. Mr. Chu should realize that Canada was built by and advanced by white European people.

    If oriental people who have lived here all their lives and feel slighted then let them speak out against any mistreatment that may have occured in the past.

    I am a white male of Scottish descent and born in Calgary and I have absolutely no guilt at all about what happened in the past. It seems that no media outlet anywhere in this country recognizes the contributions white people have made to this country and instead focuses on the bad things that have happened that no white person today need feel guilty for.

    If Mr. Chu doesn`t like Canadian history he can go back to Hong Kong. Let the people here who have experienced discrimination speak out.

    Let`s hear something POSITIVE about white European

    people and our contributions that make Canada the good country it is.

    I am fed up with all the negativity

    $

  5. Ian Robertson says

    We are all fed up with the endless demands for apologies. Move on and work together to ensure a better future for upcoming generations.

    Regurgitating the past and pointing the finger of blame does nothing positive.

    People today should not be made to feel guilty about the past.

    And by the way, Mr. Chu are your people so perfect that they haven't committed atrocities that they should feel guilty for?

    It seems that only white European people are forever

    criticized for the past.

    Everyone else is perfect, is that what you are trying to say? Better get over it.

    A disgusted New Westminster resident, tired of being attacked because I am a white man.

  6. Norman Wriglesworth says

    Holy Smoke!

    This is a subject we need Bill Barley to comment on.

    From my understanding a lot of Chinese came to the west coast of their own free will to hunt for GOLD and then returned to China. Some stayed behind, made a new life here. The ones that returned RICH caused further waves of immigrants seeking fortune in foreign lands, hence head tax.

    Now we have Mexican coming to pick crops in the interior, who live in squalor conditions so they can make some money to better there life back home. I wonder if they pay some type of TAX ? Hmmm….

    Perhaps if the Chinese community that stayed here, and didn't recently immigrate because of HK returning to communist China, cared about the building site or grave site, wouldn't they have said something about it ? Perhaps they moved on and accepted change.

    With these 'Charged' topics racism can always be perceived, but Canada has always been a looting ground for foreign countries.

    N.W.

  7. justanothercdn says

    lol… I wonder if anybody could name a place the white man didn't go, loot, rape, and force religion on.

    Perhaps if it wasn't for the Brits that forced Opium (Opium War 1+2) and took concessions in China/HK, eventually leading to hunger, war and civil war, none of the Chinese would've arrived here. Cause and effect bitches.

    Remember, there's a reason why the worlds best antiques are at the British Royal Museam.

    • Norman Wriglesworth says

      Yah, it's called Antarctica !
      But the penguins will get it sooner or later !

      N.W.

  8. Timothy Strub says

    well based on the arguments and counter arguments posted here, its seems that "reconciliation" is remote.

  9. Skookum1 says

    As an experienced and veteran Wikipedia editor who has contributed huge amounts to the online encyclopedia on BC history and geography, I am currently struggling with a Chinese sophomore-cum-academic in Texas who is disputing any source that challenges that anti-"White" academic diatribes, a lot of which don't have their facts right and often don't even get the geography right. As it happens, he intends to do an article on New West's Chinatown(s) (there were three) and will likely focus on how bad whitey was and how rough life was; and yes, he has no connection to BC's historical Chinese community *either*.

    Mr Chu has also just made similar comments about the old Chinese cemetery in Lillooet needing excavation and is apoplectic that a visitor kiosk is being built on the site, which disappeared from government survey maps as of 1953. He claims there are 20 bodies in there according to someone using a "witching" rod to locate them. Has he ever talked to descendants of Lillooet's Chinese, most of whom moved out after World War II, or even tried to find them (some are still there, "married in" to the local population, whose roots are very diverse and bridge racial lines).

    There's a lot of Chinese history in Lillooet; doesn't seem he really knows any. Recently he also claimed to have found Chinese mine diggings near Lytton and led a tour there to show it off by a Chinese-only tour group and works at finding natives to share stories of white oppression with….yet that site has been mapped as a part of a huge study by Mike Kennedy, a student of Cole Harris' at UVic, who lives at Texas Creek near Lillooet; 90% of placer claims on the Fraser from Hope to Quesnel were owned and run by the Chinese and yet the propaganda line runs that Chinese were afraid of white men so waited until they had abandoned their claims from taking them over; an outright lie but par for the course; in the Wikipedia article discussions I was dumped on by my opponent for not having a page cite for a statement in local history books about Chinese being run off streambeds by natives concerned about spawning beds…..he demanded I provide citable proof that "First Nations had policy against Chinese" but has no idea about native history, mining history sources, or BC history in general. Another item about that, about the effects of mining on native livelihood and the environment, dates way back a century; it doesn't mention Chinese directly, but if 90% of mining was Chinese, it follows that….but no, only white people were guilty of oppressing natives and/or Chinese, and no distinction is made between Americans, British Columbians, British, "Canadians" and Maritimers and "Whites" directly from Europe, or any notion that the frontier era had lots of blacks, Hawaiians, Metis and Latin Americans……if I mention that, he demands page-cites from academic sources….really he just wants to censor any attempt to provide balance to the article….as has been the case with other articles I could name, not always but often about Chinese history…and with little participation from British Columbians, whether of Chinese origin or not.

    (cont)

  10. Skookum1 says

    in the Bridge River Country, Chief Hunter Jack had run off Chinese who were working a creek near the purported site of his legendary placer claim (also ran off some Italians) and never let another Chinese settle in his territory, while picking and choosing *which* prospectors he would allow in. He was Chief of the Lakes Lillooet (Nequatque and Seton Lake bands today) and his policy was pretty clear; and of course I'm getting outraged page-cite demands from books I don't have access to right now (I'm living in Cambodia)

    Mr Chu makes a big deal of his claims about BC history and like other Chinese politicos sidles up to native peoples…but doesn't seem to have any interest in meeting local historians or descendants of the pioneer settlers whose history he is slandering; apparently "reconciliation" is really just a word for revanchism and revisionism and grandstanding. For political gain.

    Our history is being colonized, both by the internet and by activisists with ethno-political blinkers on. Whether any are part of the global "information war" waged by the PRC is hard to say, but if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck……

    Mr Chu needs to work on that "reconciliation" thing a bit more; exacerbating cultural divisions by promoting distortions of BC history without even *trying* to talk to local historians and communities is the opposite of reconciliation;; as with my opponent in Wikipedia, the conduct and method are straight out of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War"….accuse your enemy of what you are doing, attack their character/veracity instead of differences, and recruit others who have a grievance against them to go after them too……

    "changing the narrative" is ongoing in modern academia about BC history, by putting desired answers first and then purposely excluding sources/information that does not fit the desired "conclusion". Seriously, that's the instructions I was given by professors at SFU ten years ago when I went back, thinking to finish a degree; twenty years before the methodology was different, read four or five sources, consider their biases and inadequacies, read between the lines and come up with a question for your conclusion……and think for yourself. The "new history"is all about ethnicity, class and gender and "normal" history is regarded as worthless because (a) it was written by white people and (b) it doesn't have page-cites and footnotes referring to academic papers.

    BC's history is about individuals, and individual communities; rewriting and revising it along purely racial lines and making generalizations about "Whites" while protesting generalizations allegedly made/held against the Chinese and others is not acceptable. But the academics have money on their side, as do the "new Canadians" who are only interested in the history of their *own* group and aren't interested in learning about BC as a whole.

    My username in Wikipedia is the same as I use here; there's an "email this user" link on the left column of my userpage.

  11. Skookum1 says

    here's more of the same, also repeating and expanding on Chu's line; note no actual figures for workers killed by landslides or explosions are given, and note that 17,000 figure…..that's not how many were working on the railway at any one time…..and no mention at all it was Chinese-owned labour contractors were the ones who set those very low labour rates, or that it was Ottawa (MacDonald) who forced the use of Chinese labour instead of listening to BC colonists who had wanted a settlement population from the British Isles to do the work; and no mention of all the times that those very rich Chinese labour contractors stiffed their hirelings; 2000 Chinese struggled to survive in caves near Spences Bridge after railway construction ended, in the dead of winter……and it was the Lower Mainland's wealthy and middle-class "White" population who rescued them…..the Chinese contractor just didn't care.

    one-sided history serves no one, other than those on the one side who push their (fabricated and conflated and distorrted) accounts to seek political advantage and humiliation of those whose histories they revise to suit their own agendas. As noted in this blog article, all this kind of stuff is chock-full in curricula already; they talk about it as if it's secret and suppressed and needs MORE emphasis.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/suzanne-ma/post_3888

    What's interesting in all the non-Chinese-biased histories, from the past, and around shelves and online today, is how *fair* and sympathetic reportage of Chinese life and individuals in BC is and was…by everyone by the soapboxing ethno-political crowd, who either don't read those histories and websites, or just don't want to. Or claim they're invalid because they don't have page-cites or are out of print or whatever….

    Oh here's the article on Chu's latest campaign in Lillooet.
    http://www.theprovince.com/Historic+Chinese+cemet

Continuing the Discussion

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    […] press release to get ink on historical mistreatment of Chinese Canadians in New Westminster, but as Will points out in his post, the other side of the story has been underrepresented in the media. If you’re here from the […]

  2. Tenth to the Fraser Best of 2009 | Tenth To The Fraser linked to this post on December 29, 2009

    […] also loved my husband Will’s rebuttal to Bill Chu of “Canadians for Reconciliation,” whose laser focus on historical incidents of racism in the Royal City resulted in much […]

  3. the UGLY Chinese Canadian linked to this post on March 24, 2010

    […] author of the blog,  “Tenth to the Fraser” prepared the following post on June 5, 2009 on this topic, and with permission, we’ve […]

  4. Westminster Pier Park: controversial, audacious and vital | Tenth To The Fraser linked to this post on September 19, 2011

    […] with many mistakes made in the past, not only contaminated sites but forgotten cemeteries, historic institutionalized racism, and more. The true test of our city’s (and citizens’) character is what we […]



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