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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13 thoughts on “A Critical Eye on ‘Canadians for Reconciliation’”

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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

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