Vancouver, B.C. (May 10, 2023) – In recognition of Asian Heritage Month, the Chinese Canadian Museum is sharing a sneak peek of its new permanent location as it undergoes renewal inside the historic Wing Sang Building — the oldest building in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Set to open to the public on Saturday, July 1st, the Chinese Canadian Museum is Canada’s first museum recognizing past, present, and future contributions and stories of Chinese Canadians towards the growth and success of B.C. and Canada. Once completed, the museum will feature bright, renewed, and contemporary spaces that herald cultural experiences and its connection to the illustrious Chinese Canadian historical perspectives and modern-day narratives. Through exhibitions, educational programming, and special events, the Chinese Canadian Museum promises to be an impactful addition to the fabric of Chinatown and across Canada.
“Since the Province of B.C. announced plans for Canada’s first Chinese Canadian Museum, our passionate and dedicated Board members and museum staff have been working hard towards our unveiling,” said Dr. Melissa Karmen Lee, CEO of the Chinese Canadian Museum. “The excitement is building, and we want to give Canadians a preview of some of our exhibition and programming spaces as we share and advance the stories of Chinese Canadians.”
The new Chinese Canadian Museum space in the Wing Sang Building will feature:
● A period living room with interactive antique objects that bring visitors back in time to the 1930s when Yip Sang’s children and grandchildren lived in Chinatown.
● One of Vancouver’s oldest school rooms with many original elements kept intact — it initially served as a classroom for the children from the community.
● A separate introduction gallery space that will feature Odysseys and Migration, an exhibition that explores the Chinese diaspora from the early waves to present day.
● An interactive immigration map on which visitors can draw and share the origins and immigration journeys of their families.
● A painted mural by Chinese Canadian artist Marlene Yuen, highlighting Chinese Canadian journeys and experiences past to present.
The Wing Sang Building, which means “everlasting” in Chinese, was originally built in 1889 as a small two-storey warehouse by Yip Sang, a successful merchant whose own story is a testament to the success of Chinese immigrants. A larger three-storey warehouse was built in 1901 to envelop the smaller building. Another separate six-storey building was constructed at the back in 1912 to house his growing family, which included three wives and 23 children. A covered walkway was built between the buildings over the narrow Market Alley, which was a thriving social gathering spot for the community with laundry shops, barber shop, and lodgings.
On the building’s façade can be seen a door on the second floor, appearing to open up to … nowhere. Its purpose will be revealed in the museum’s new video campaign “What’s that door for?” — giving audiences fun facts about the historic Wing Sang Building. Featuring renowned Hong Kong-born Asian-American actor Tzi Ma, who is now based in Vancouver, the video series also highlights interviews with some of Yip Sang’s eldest grandchildren, including 88-year-old Mel Yip, who shares insights into his family’s legacy and memories growing up in the building.
Vancouver real estate marketer Bob Rennie bought the Wing Sang Building in 2004, and renovated and restored it as his office and art exhibition space. In 2022, the Province of B.C. provided $27.5 million to help purchase the heritage building as the home of the Chinese Canadian Museum.
“I think it is extremely important to have a place like the Chinese Canadian Museum so that all Chinese Canadians can learn about our past in Canada, as well as for the entire country to understand how we as Canadians, along with many other immigrants from around the world, have helped build and transform Canada into the diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and truly eclectic country that we are proud to call home,” said Vivienne Poy, Canada’s first Chinese Canadian Senator who was instrumental in establishing May as Asian Heritage Month.
Renovations at the museum are currently underway, as well as the installation of its inaugural exhibition, The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. July 1, 2023 mark 100 years since the Chinese Immigration Act was passed into law in 1923.
“The Chinese Canadian Museum is a transformative place where we can bridge cultures and generations, as well as honour and recognize the Chinese Canadians who came before us and helped shape the country we live in today,” said Grace Wong, Board Chair of the Chinese Canadian Museum. “We want to pay tribute to the sacrifices these early Chinese Canadians made, and share the diverse and interesting stories of multi-generational Chinese Canadians who are part of the diverse landscape that make up Canada, now and into the future.”
The Chinese Canadian Museum is realized by contributions from the Province of B.C., totalling $48.5 million in support of the establishment. Along with a $25-million fundraising campaign from private
donors across Canada, the museum is in great shape for its grand opening, with more work needed in subsequent phases for the full building to be renovated into museum, programming, and education space. More details about the Chinese Canadian Museum’s public opening will be announced in the coming weeks.