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Asian Canadian History and Archives

About These Collections

The fonds and collections included here contain the records of Chinese Canadians, various associations by and for Chinese Canadians, and non-Asian creators whose records contain information relevant to the Chinese Canadian experience. They include the records of those who were/are composers, political figures, activists, writers, and businessmen, among other professions, in addition to multiple collections featuring materials from Chinese Canadian-owned businesses and documenting political upheavals. 

Notable fonds include those of Won Cumyow, the first Chinese Canadian born in Canada (1861) and Thomas Whaun, the first Chinese Canadian graduate of the University of British Columbia (1927).

Ron Bick Lee and family

Vancouver businessman Ron Bick Lee, whose fonds is housed at RBSC, photographed along with his family.

Image source: Chinese Canadian Stories, UBC Open Collections

[Unknown]. (n.d.). [Photograph of Ron Bick Lee and his family] [P]. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0367052

Archival Collections by Chinese Canadian Creators

The Canadian Women Composers collection contains materials generated and used by Canadian women composers active at home and abroad. The collection includes primary resources like handwritten compositions and edits, original scores, photographs, art prints, manuscripts, correspondence, and published articles. Throughout each of these women’s records, one can see and follow the process they go through while creating a new composition. One of the featured artists is Dorothy Chang, a professor of Music and Composition at the University of British Columbia whose work often reflects the eclectic mix of musical influences from her youth, including popular music, folk music, and elements of traditional Chinese music. 


The fonds consists of a photocopied letterpress copybook used in consul business between November 1914 and May 1915. The correspondence is in Chinese and English and was generated under the direction of Chinese consul Lin Shih Yuan.


Chock On, shortened from Wo Chock On Fong, was the name given to a house located at 359 East Pender Street in Vancouver, B.C. after it was bought by the Si Sing Company in the late 1920s. The Si Sing Company was formed by the Wo Surname Association in Vancouver for the purpose of raising funds to buy a house so that the Association’s members (mostly single men without a family) would have a low rent place to stay. In the 1930s, Chock On also operated as a labour agency, mainly under the supervision of Wo Shou, and contracted Chinese labourers to canneries along the B.C. coast. In 1980, Wo Chock On Fong raised funds among Wo Surname Association members in Vancouver and published a special commemorative book to celebrate the half century of Chock On’s history.

The fonds consists of the incoming correspondence of Wo Shou, Wo Sai Jik, and other members of the Wo Surname Association, mainly regarding cannery labour-related business and fundraising activities. It also consists of records and printed material relating to native place issues in Canton, China; the Wo Surname Association in Canton and in B.C.; Chock On business and other activities; and the local Chinese community.


Desmond Power was a born in Tientsin, China in 1923. He spent his early years in China until his eventual internment by the Japanese occupying force during WWII. After his release, Desmond settled in Vancouver, B.C. and spent his time researching and writing about his experiences living in both Imperial and Republican China. The collection consists of a medal for bravery that was likely awarded to a family member for meritorious service during the Boxer Uprising of 1899-1901, a fragment of a corresponding letter of recommendation, and an album consisting of photographs of Tientsin during and immediately after the Uprising. The album primarily depicts troop movements and military equipment, but also includes a few personal family photos.


Foon Sien Wong was best known as a spokesman for the Chinese Canadian community in Vancouver, B.C. He often travelled to Ottawa to pursue the rights of Chinese Canadians, particularly urging the lifting of the strictures on Chinese immigration, which often separated members of families from one another. He also served for a time on the Vancouver Consultative Committee on Redevelopment, and throughout his life, fought unflaggingly to end discrimination against all those considered to be minority groups at the time. The fonds consists primarily of clippings and articles relating to international affairs, Chinese customs preserved in Canada, life in Vancouver's China Town, and social and political problems confronted by Chinese Canadians. Further, the fonds contains records related to Sien Wong’s work with the Vancouver Unity Association as well as many complete copies of the Chinatown newspaper, The Chinese Voice.


Jim Wong-Chu was born in 1949 in Hong Kong and was sent to live with this aunt and uncle in Canada in 1953 as a "paper son”, a term which referred to the practice of children immigrating to Canada by using real or falsified identification papers of relatives living in Canada. He was sent back to Hong Kong in 1957 out of concern that his identity might be discovered by government authorities, but returned to live with his aunt and uncle in 1961.He attended Vancouver School of Art from 1975-1981 with a focus on photography and design as well as the University of British Columbia from 1985-1987 for creative writing. He worked as a letter carrier for the Canada Post, an associate editor for Douglas and McIntyre, and an associate editor for Arsenal Pulp Press, as well as consulted for various community organizations, film and television productions, and literary publications. He was also a founding member of various community and cultural organizations including: Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop (ACWW); Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society/explorASIAN; the Pender Guy Radio Program; Asia Canadian Performing Arts Resource (ACPAR); Ricepaper magazine; and literASIAN: A Festival of Pacific Rim Asian Canadian Writing. By the end of his life, he was well known for his broad work as a writer, photographer, historian, radio producer, editor, community organizer, and activist.

The fonds consists of correspondence, meeting minutes, schedules, manuscripts, posters and event flyers, photographs, event programs, financial statements and budgets, publications and articles, reports, conference proceedings, and speeches related to Wong-Chu’s involvement in various cultural and artistic communities in Vancouver, San Francisco, and other areas in the northwestern United States and Canada. In particular, the materials relate to Canadian cultural and literary communities; Asian Canadian writers; social justice and historical issues related to discrimination of Chinese and other Asian ethnic groups; and Canada and Vancouver's Chinese and other Asian cultural communities.


The Lee family were ranchers, storekeepers, and fur traders in Hanceville and Alexis Creek, B.C. The fonds consists of correspondence (1895-1933) and financial records (1913/1914, 1921) which document the business activities of the Lee family, most notably Lee Thung and his son Lee Kepment.


Ron Bick Lee was born in Guangdong, China in 1892 and moved to Canada in 1911. He landed in Victoria, B.C. before moving to Vancouver in 1916 and working at the historic White Lunch Restaurant. By 1921, he had gained enough experience and capital to found Foo Hung Co. Ltd., his own importing and exporting company in Vancouver, which soon became one of the leading importers of Asian goods in Canada. With a strong commitment to serve the community, Bick Lee led the fundraising and reconstruction projects of the Vancouver Chinese Public School and served as the school chairman for several terms. As a community leader, he was also involved with several other associations, including the Chinese Merchants’ Association, Toi San Benevolent Society, and Chinese Social Development Society. The fonds consists of textual material, graphic material, and artifacts related to Ron Bick Lee’s activities as a businessman, community leader, and family man. The records include correspondence, business documents, photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, rubber stamps, self-learning notes, and so on.


Thomas Whaun was born as Tung Mow Wong in Kwangtung, China in 1893. He emigrated to Canada in 1907, anglicised his name, and eventually became a Canadian citizen in 1950. He was employed as an advertising manager for The Canada Morning News from 1923 until its demise in 1929 and then became the public relations manager and advertising officer of The New Republic Daily from 1933 until his retirement in 1973. Whaun is known for being an early Chinese Canadian graduate of the University of British Columbia (1927) and for his nation-wide letter writing protest against the Chinese Exclusion Act. The fonds consists primarily of correspondence with accompanying newspaper clippings, diaries, and photographs, as well as school notes and correspondence of his daughter, lieutenant colonel June Whaun.


The Tiananmen Square incident, also called June Fourth Incident or 6/4, was a culmination of a series of protests and demonstrations in China in the spring of 1989 that culminated on the night of June 3–4 with a government crackdown on the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Although the demonstrations and their subsequent repression occurred in cities throughout the country, the events in Beijing—and especially in Tiananmen Square, historically linked to such other protests as the May Fourth Movement (1919)—came to symbolize the entire incident. The collection consists of 112 photographs donated by a citizen of China and a student who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and wishes to remain anonymous.


The fonds consists of records created and/or received by the Wah Shun Company of Vancouver between 1919-1938. Materials include contracts, correspondence, cheque books, invoices, and photographs.


The Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection contains more than 25,000 rare and unique items, including documents, books, maps, posters, paintings, photographs, tableware, and other artifacts. Donated to UBC Library in 1999 by Wallace and Madeline Chung, prominent Vancouver doctors and practitioners of community service, the Chung Collection represents a unique and extensive research collection of items in various formats related to early British Columbia history, immigration and settlement, particularly of Chinese people in North America, and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. One of the most exceptional and extensive collections of its kind in North America, the Chung Collection has been designated as a national treasure by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.


Won Cumyow, the first Chinese Canadian born in Canada, was born in 1861 in Port Douglas, B.C. His parents had immigrated there from Canton and his father operated a business outfitting miners on their way to the Cariboo. In addition to Chinese and English, Cumyow also learned to speak Chinook while growing up. The family later moved to New Westminster, where Cumyow was educated in law and appointed court interpreter in 1888. He eventually gained prominence as a merchant, community leader, and official Court Interpreter for the Vancouver City Police (1904-1936), and was involved with several groups, including the Chinese Empire Reform Association. He married in 1889 and had ten children. The fonds consists of correspondence, journals, scrapbooks, photographs, diplomas, certificates, and reference and printed materials relating to Cumyow's activities and interests among the Chinese-Canadian community of Vancouver. The activities of his family are also reflected in the fonds.

Archival Collections by Non-Asian Creators

Alexander Malcolm Manson, a B.C. politician and judge, was born in 1883 in St. Louis, Missouri. Following the death of his mother in 1889, he moved to Ontario to live with his grandparents. He studied law at Osgoode Hall, graduated in 1908, was called to the Ontario Bar in June 1908, and to the British Columbia Bar in July 1908. He settled in northern British Columbia and became the first lawyer to practice in Prince Rupert. Soon after beginning his career as a lawyer, Manson expressed an interest in politics. He went on to hold a number of positions in Premier John Oliver's government, such as: Deputy Speaker; Speaker of the Legislative Assembly; Attorney-General; King's Counsel; and Minister of Labour. During this period, Manson was involved in the high-profile and controversial Janet Smith murder investigation and trial (1924-1925), of which his unethical and racist handling of the case would irreparably damage his political career. On November 27, 1935, Alexander Malcolm Manson was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. He served on the Supreme Court of British Columbia for 26 years.

The fonds consists of records reflecting Manson’s career and personal life. By searching for “Janet Smith” in the search bar, you can find material related to the case wherein he was publicly decried for his involvement in the unjust persecution, kidnapping, and torture of Wong Foon Sing, the victim’s Chinese domestic servant who was suspected of the killing.​


The Jack Petley collection consists of correspondence, financial records, and ephemera. There is, among other materials, correspondence from employees of the Kettle Valley Railway Co. and the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. relating to derailment, Chinese labour and housing, and the building of railway lines.


John Alexander Scott was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1910 and moved to Montreal in 1927. His interest in political activism began when he participated in a 1929 May Day rally and, within the year, he joined the Communist Party and became a Workers Unity League organizer. In 1964, Scott was expelled from the Communist Party for speaking in favor of Communist China and voicing opposition to what he believed to be the party's movement away from revolutionary Marxist-Leninist principles. The same year, he was also expelled from the New Democratic Party. During that time, Scott was instrumental in founding the Canada-China Friendship Association (CCFA) and the Vancouver-based Progressive Workers’ Movement (PWM), which drew strength from a pro-Chinese faction within the Communist Party. Starting in 1967, he visited China four times and met Mao Zedong. In the 1970s, Scott was an active member of the Vancouver Study Group (VSG), which eventually became the Red Star Collective (RSC), and wrote on such topics as labour history, Canadian unions, Canadian political economy, and Chinese foreign policy. The fonds consists of records related to Scott’s activities as a political activist and author, as well as material related to his personal life from the 1930s through his death in 2000.


This collection comprises records acquired by Peter Moogk about aspects of British Columbia’s history, including the British Columbia Electric Railway Company’s interurban train lines (predominantly from 1909-1958) and photographs of places, events, and activities in the province. The collection includes five series: British Columbia Electric Railway Company records; portraits of persons; photos of places, streets, and architecture; photos of events and activities; and ephemera. The fifth series, British Columbia ephemera, is mostly paper ephemera representing the variety of business and activity in the province from 1890 to 1990, and includes menus, theatre programs, business correspondence, and Chinese textbooks as well as some photographic materials.


This small collection consists of photocopies of legal and financial documents including receipts, promissory notes, orders, and agreements which relate to the business transactions of Kwong Lee and Company, Sansum Copper Mining, and the Grouse Creek Flume Company. Materials are in Chinese.

Digitized Collections

Materials from RBSC and beyond are digitized and available for viewing online at UBC Open Collections. Those that relate directly to Chinese Canadian history are listed below.


This digitized collection consists of materials that document Chinese Canadian history represented in the holdings of UBC Library, SFU Library, City of Vancouver Archives, Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) community partners, and other community contributors. The collections contain digitized photographs, audio/video recordings, manuscripts (including correspondence and diaries), and organizational documents.

photograph of Andrew Wong reading on a ship at sea

Image source: Chinese Canadian Stories, UBC Open Collections

[unknown]. (1994). [Photograph of Andrew Wong reading on a ship] [P]. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0367186


A collection of rare Chinese books from the UBC Asian Library collection composed mainly of works from the Puban (蒲坂藏書) and Pang Jingtang (龐鏡塘藏書). The core of the Puban (蒲坂藏書) was originally a part of the famed Nanzhou Shu Lou (南州書樓), a large private library owned by Xu Shaoqi (徐紹棨) (1879–1948), a professor of Chinese literature and bibliography, curator of the Guangdong Provincial Library and one of the renowned bibliophiles of South China. The focus of the Nanzhou was primarily census and historical records, documents and literature of Xu’s native province. The Pang Jingtang (龐鏡塘藏書), acquired in 2000, is much smaller than the Puban with 94 titles and 841 volumes. Collected by its namesake who held high-profile military and political positions under the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Pang Jingtang includes works produced prior to 1796 including many Ming editions and a few manuscripts that may be sole existing copies.


The previously mentioned Chung Collection was donated by Drs. Wallace and Madeline Chung and contains more than 25,000 rare and unique items, including documents, books, maps, posters, paintings, photographs, tableware, and other artifacts. The link above will take you to the digitized content available on UBC Open Collections.

The collection also has its own website that can be found here.

portrait of Chinese women in Chinese-style dress, Victoria BC

Image source: The Chung Collection, UBC Open Collections

Hong, L. B. (1920). [Portrait of Chinese women in Chinese-style dress, Victoria, B.C.] [P]. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0217574


Co-hosted by the University of British Columbia Library and the Ohio University Libraries, the 5th WCILCOS International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies on Chinese through the Americas was successfully held May 16th to 19th, 2012 at the University of British Columbia (Point Grey Campus) in Vancouver, Canada. Over 200 scholars, librarians, community researchers and students from 13 countries and regions attended the 28 panel discussions. 


The Yip family in Vancouver began with Yip Sang's arrival in B.C. in 1881. Yip Sang was born in China in 1845 and left his home village in the Guangdong province to travel to San Francisco in 1864, where he worked as a dishwasher, cook, cigar maker, and labourer in the goldfields. Eventually he left for B.C., settled in Vancouver in 1881, and found work as a pedlar selling sacks of coal door to door. In 1882, he was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Supply Company, where he worked as a bookkeeper, timekeeper, paymaster and then as the Chinese superintendent. In 1885, Yip Sang left the company and returned to China. In 1888, he returned to Vancouver and established the import and export firm of Wing Sang Company. He also went on to be one of the driving forces in the establishment of the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Chinese School, and the Chinese Hospital (now Mount St. Joseph's) in Vancouver. He was a lifetime governor of Vancouver General Hospital, and was also a benefactor of the Public Hospital in Guangdong province in China. 

Books by Aforementioned Canadians