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Stunning new book of stories and photographs shares Chinese Canadian history in Burnaby

A newly released story collection weaves together photographs, family memories and first-hand accounts to feature the history of the Chinese Canadian community in Burnaby.
Laura Suey Ying Jung worked at her family farm Douglas Road Farm at Douglas Road and Still Creek Avenue in Burnaby until she married at the age of 30, according to a recently published collection of stories and photographs on the Chinese Canadian community in Burnaby.

The City of Burnaby has just released a beautiful new history book chronicling the stories of the local Chinese Canadian community.

Rooted: Chinese Canadian Stories in Burnaby tells the stories of more than a century of local businesses, family farms, green grocers, corner stores, community groups and more that made Burnaby into the city it is today.

There are two versions of the book: one published in simplified Chinese and English and one in traditional Chinese and English.

With almost 30 chapters tracing three overarching themes of food production, social networks and community building, writers share stories of family farms such as Tae Yee Yuen Farm, Hop On Farms and Douglas Road Farm along with family photographs.

Local businesses like corner stores and restaurants feature in the second act, as well as the iconic Crystal Mall.

The last section follows contemporary work to end anti-Asian racism and recent local grassroots, non-profit and religious organizations such as Stand with Asians Coalition, Tian Jin Temple and Chinese Christian Mission in Canada.

Writer Helen Lee tells the story of the City of Burnaby’s first Chinese Canadian staff member Richard Samuel Lee who “had no idea he would breach the colour line.” It was Lee’s hiring in 1953 that would initiate the repeal of a 61-year-old Burnaby bylaw that banned Chinese and Japanese people from working for the city.

The collection has been in the works since 2017 and was edited by lead researcher Denise Fong, Burnaby Village Museum’s curator Jane Lemke and the city’s heritage planner Lisa Codd.

Centenary of the Chinese Exclusion Act and reconciliation

The book’s publication was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal law which barred Chinese people from immigrating to Canada.

As part of the centenary, the city has also begun a process to formally apologize for discriminatory bylaws and practices against people of Chinese descent throughout Burnaby’s municipal history.

“Burnaby would not be the vibrant community it is today without the invaluable contributions of the Chinese Canadian community,” said Mayor Mike Hurley in a news release. “Collecting and presenting these stories, interviews, photographs and first-hand accounts, is part of an effort to acknowledge the racism and discrimination faced by Burnaby’s early Chinese Canadian residents, while celebrating their resilience.”

You can purchase Rooted for $39.95 plus tax at the Burnaby Village Museum gift shop during opening hours, at the museum’s administration building or by calling 604-297-4565.

Both editions of the book have been digitized and are available online.

Burnaby Village Museum hosts 38 exhibitions over its 10-acre campus, including a Chinese Canadian market garden exhibit and a Chinese medicinal shop.

Last year, the museum released the Chinese Canadian History Resource Guide to showcase and honour the contributions of Chinese Canadians in Burnaby.

The city will host a community dialogue on Chinese Canadian reconciliation in Burnaby on Oct. 17 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Bonsor Recreation Complex (6550 Bonsor Ave.). Register for the event here.