provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Joe Wai's Passing--Losing A Community Giant Whose Designs and Personal Influence Shaped Vancouver

Every New Year, I look forward to a beautiful hand drawn card in the mail from Joe Wai. The style of his sketches are unmistakable--of buildings, courtyards, of intimate cityscapes--captured in spare line drawings and always accompanied by a personal handwritten message in the same unique penmanship. Opening the envelope at this time every year has always been an honour for me, an annual ritual that filled me with pride to know that I had warranted such gracious attention and respect from one of my personal heroes.

Those cards will no longer be coming. To me or to any of the large number of people who respected and revered Joe.

Just hours ago, I heard the terrible news of Joe Wai's passing. It is a devastating loss. Just days ago, he had been at the Open House at the Chinese Cultural Centre for the Rezoning Proposal for 105 Keefer, a passionate and vocal activist for Chinatown, saying what needed to be said, and standing up for what he believed was right, even though his health has been a challenge over the last few years. Joe has been an inspiration for me in almost every thing that I do as a historian and as a community volunteer. I cannot count how many meetings I have had the privilege of being at with him, and I can hear clearly in my mind at this very moment the sound of his voice, persuasively articulating what needed to be done or explaining with clarity the history of why things had become the way they were. Although his professional life was as an architect, and in particular as a defining presence in heritage architecture, his most profound effect for me and I am sure for many others has been in his longstanding involvement in the civic life of Vancouver. He was a giant presence in any conversation, but not because he was loud or boisterous, but because of the compelling content of what he would say. Joe Wai the active citizen and community volunteer has profoundly shaped this city, as much as his iconic architectural designs have given shape to Vancouver's Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods. He cared about the issues, but he also cared about the people who came together to argue, and cajole, and sometimes shout at each other about what was best for their community. Often, in such contexts, his was a whisper compared to the heated voices of passionate debate. But his words nevertheless had an impact beyond any angry shout because of the gravity and clarity of what he said rather than the volume at which he spoke.

I would not be working at UBC, in the job I have, if it was not for Joe Wai speaking out while a member of the Board of Governors, asking why in a city such as Vancouver with its population and location, there was so little teaching and engagement of students with the long Chinese Canadian history that had shaped not only his beloved Chinatown, but the city (and UBC) in general. It was that outspoken prompt that led to the creation of a relevant position, the hiring of me and other colleagues who focused on Asian Canadian and Asian migration issues, and as a consequence also the creation of programs that brought hundreds of UBC students over the last decade into meaningful engagements with local Chinese Canadian, Japanese Canadian, South Asian Canadian, and other Asian Canadian communities. Few people realize how crucial a role Joe Wai played as a catalyst in sparking the creation of these new programs.

In a similar way, Joe's voice has helped shape many other initiatives and civic projects over his long fruitful life. His significant impact, often as quiet and low-key as his baritone voice, has been monumental.

When I came home to Vancouver to work at UBC, leaving a job at UCLA, one of the biggest reasons I did so was because of the encouragement and inspiration of Joe Wai. In a café now long gone, sitting for a meal with Andy Yan and Joe's brother Hayne, any trepidations that I had about making this huge change in my life were allayed by the reassurance that Joe Wai would be a supportive ally. He never let me down, or any of the countless students who have gone out from UBC over the last decade in the passionate and engaged manner envisioned by Joe. Some of them were as lucky as I was to meet and learn from Joe himself, in particular those who were interested in Chinatown and its struggles over the last decade not to lose its significance as a special and unique part of our city's heritage. Those who knew him can count themselves lucky to have had him as a kind and supportive mentor, generous with his time and advice, but also candid about the challenges of an active and engaged life.

Changes come sometimes only with persistent and impassioned struggle, and oftentimes a hard won gain is subsequently lost. For those whose youthful energy can wane, discouraged by how difficult entrenched hierarchies could be, Joe was a figure of inspiration but also of consolation, a sage whose wisdom had been hard earned through both victories and disappointments. I remember many of those times, when after a particular discussion or meeting, I felt stunned by the barely veiled cynicism that had shaped a decision. Moments like those threaten to sap the energy it often takes to stand up for what you believe, and like rust, over time break the strength of conviction with the corrosion of cynicism. I have myself been reminded by Joe's own example to not lose hope. His humanity itself was a bulwark against becoming a hopeless cynic. Walking to the car with him after a discussion had ended and hearing him chuckle about a head scratching moment was like a tonic, a reminder that laughing off our human foibles rather than demonizing others allowed one to continue to search for a humane compromise.

My heartfelt condolences to the Wai family, whose loss today and in the days to come far outweigh that of those like me who have had the privilege of benefitting from Joe's generousity.

Joe Wai was a great architect, a great citizen of this city, and a gentleman whose grace and dignity will continue to be an inspiration to many...


All Our Father's Relations Special New Year's Screening, January 28, 2017

For those who missed the showing of All Our Fathers Relations at the VAFF, or couldn't get tickets (the show sold out early), there's a chance on Chinese New Years (January 28) to see it down at the David Mowafaghian Cinema down at SFU Woodward's! Get your tickets early, they're selling fast! I have the honour of MC'ing a discussion with the Grant family, so I'm looking forward to going down after spending time with my family celebrating the lunar New Year...

Tickets available at Eventbrite at:

You are invited to the following event:
Event to be held at the following time, date, and location:
Saturday, 28 January 2017 from 7:00 PM to 9:30 PM (PST)
SFU Woodward's, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts - Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema
149 W Hastings St
Vancouver, BC V6B 1H4

View Map
Attend Event
Share this event:
Ring in the Chinese New Year with family and friends, and learn about hidden histories of early First Nations and Chinese Canadian relations on Musqueam territory in British Columbia. 
All Our Father’s Relations tells the story of the Grant siblings who journey from Vancouver to China in an attempt to rediscover their father’s roots and better understand his fractured relationship with their Musqueam mother. The Grant family and their story reveals the shared struggles of migrants and Aboriginal peoples today and in the past.
This new documentary film premiered at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, where it was awarded Best Canadian Feature. 
Proceeds from this fundraiser will go towards widely distributing the film to broader audiences. 
Date and Time:
Saturday, January 28 at 7PM (Doors open at 6:30PM)
Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema
149 W Hasting St,
Vancouver, BC
Program:MC: Henry Yu (Executive Producer, UBC Historian)
6:30: Doors Open
7:00 - 8:15: Opening Remarks and Film Screening
8:15 - 8:45: Q & A with the Filmmakers & Participants
8:45: Poster Signing* & Merchandise Sales
*You will have the opportunity to purchase an All Our Father's Relations poster and the Grant siblings will be available to sign.
Purchase your tickets early as they are available on a first come, first served basis!
General admission: $15
Handling fee (Eventbrite): $1.51
All Our Father's Relations helps to record and revitalize the interconnected histories of Chinese Canadian and First Nations relations along the Fraser River in British Columbia. Dating as far back as the 19th century, relations between Chinese and First Nations in Canada were often respectful and mutually beneficial; both peoples supported one another in the face of marginalization and racism.

The Chinese market gardening history in the Musqueam community is an important historical example of reciprocal relationships between Chinese and First Nations, and the respect many early Chinese migrants showed as guests on First Nations’ territories. The film features siblings Helen Callbreath, Gordon J. Grant, Larry Grant, and Howard E. Grant, who are elders from the Musqueam Nation with Chinese ancestry. The siblings reflect on their experiences growing up on the Chinese farms at Musqueam and in Vancouver's Chinatown, and the impact of discriminatory government legislation on their lives. They also visit the ancestral village of their late father, in Guangdong, China, for the first time. The Grants’ father, Hong Tim Hing, left the village of Sei Moon in Guangdong, China in 1920 to Vancouver, BC - the unceded territory of the Musqueam hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking people. He worked on the Lin On Farm at Musqueam Indian Reserve 2, where he met his wife, Agnes Grant.
Director: Alejandro Yoshizawa
Producers: Sarah Ling, Alejandro Yoshizawa
Co-Producer: Jordan Paterson
Executive producers: Howard E. Grant, Henry Yu
With deep gratitude to the Musqueam Nation whose unceded lands this film was made on, and the Grant family for sharing their story.
For further information, please visit
Twitter: #allourfathersrelations
Official trailer
Share this event on Facebook and Twitter

We hope you can make it!

Best wishes,
Right Relations Productions

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On Why We Should Say No to a Fourth Rezoning Proposal at 105 Keefer

I was on the air on Monday night (January 9) with Melody Ma of Save Chinatown YVR talking to host Kirk Lapointe about the fourth rezoning proposal made for 105 Keefer in Chinatown and why it should be turned down again. Went to the Open House down at the Chinese Cultural Centre last night and was heartened to see the large number of people and the energy there, especially the passion of the younger generations who came out to show their opposition to the proposal!

The Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, representing a broad array of Chinatown associations, again opposed any rezoning at 105 Keefer above 9 stories (the rezoning proposal from Beedie is for 12 stories).

See the Save Chinatown YVR discussion of the rezoning proposal at:

Listen to the interview:

Kirk has led Canadian broadcast, print and media organizations (as Senior Vice President of CTV News, Editor-in-Chief and General Manager of Southam News, and Associate Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Hamilton Spectator), managed newsrooms (Managing Editor of The Vancouver Sun, General News Editor and Ottawa Bureau Chief of The Canadian Press), helped launch media (Host of CBC Newsworld and Executive Editor of National Post), and reported for The Canadian Press, The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star. He is a former BC ombudsman, Canadian Editor for Billboard Magazine and station manager of CKLN Ryerson. He ran for Mayor of Vancouver in 2014. Kirk is the VP Audience and Business Development at Business in Vancouver Media Group; Adjunct Professor and Executive-in-Residence at the Graduate School of Journalism at UBC, where he teaches ethics and leadership; and Executive Director of the Organization of News Ombudsmen, the worldwide body for media standards leaders. Kirk is a runner, goaltender, golfer, boxer and girls’ softball coach. He contributes time to initiatives to improve literacy and cancer research. He is married to Mary Lynn Young. They have three children.
Our commitment at Roundhouse Radio is to solution-based conversation and journalism.  Through curiosity and transparency and fair-minded inquiry, our stories and discussions will be rich in substance and hold the power to create positive social impact. 

We are setting a tone that is thoughtful, engaging and quick to laughter as you reflect on your day. There will be news, current affairs, politics, business, and media.  Of course.  And conversations about families, the arts, social trends, music and sports, even a little hockey.  Our struggles and successes.  With guests from across the spectrum and all corners of Vancouver, Evenings with Kirk LaPointe is your hyper-local radio touchstone.  
Email Kirk at:

Friday, October 14, 2016

All Our Father's Relations and Under Fire Premier at VAFF

Very proud of my friends Sarah Ling and Alejandro Yoshizawa, and my friends the Grants, for their wonderful upcoming film All Our Father's Relations, as well as Christy Fong and Denise Fong for their short film Under Fire: Inside a Chinese Roasted Meats Shop, which will debut the same day November 6 in the afternoon. Christy and Denise made their film in Al's class last year, and it was nominated for Best Canadian Short at VAFF this year! Get tickets as soon as you can!

World Premiere of All Our Father's Relations
As one of the Community Partners of the 20th Annual Vancouver Asian Film Festival, it is our pleasure to invite you to the world premiere of All Our Father's Relations, which is nominated for the Best Canadian Feature Award.

Date: Sunday, November 6, 2016
Time: 4:30pm
Location: Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas

General Admission: $8 (includes the VAFF membership)*
Tickets: (available now on a first come, first-served basis)
CCHSBC Members Group Ticket Special! Members wishing to purchase 6 or more tickets are eligible for a 10% discount. Please email to get the code.

Synopsis: All Our Father's Relations tells the story of the Grant siblings who journey from Vancouver to China in an attempt to rediscover their father's roots and better understand his fractured relationship with their Musqueam mother. The Grant family and their story reveals the shared struggles of migrants and Aboriginal peoples in the past and today.

Director: Alejandro Yoshizawa
Producers: Sarah Ling, Alejandro Yoshizawa, Jordan Paterson
Executive Producers: Howard E. Grant, Henry Yu

With deep gratitude to the Musqueam Nation whose unceded lands this film was made on, and the Grant family for sharing their story.

*If you already have a VAFF membership, then General Admission to 'All Our Father's Relations' is $6. 
An Evening of Storytelling
Join us for an evening of storytelling about the intertwining heritage of First Nations and Chinese communities in BC, inspired by the exciting documentary film All Our Father's Relations.

Meet and speak with key storytellers from the film - Larry Grant and Howard E. Grant, filmmakers - Sarah Ling and Alejandro Yoshizawa, CCHSBC Board Member Hayne Wai, and more.

Date: November 1, 2016
Time: 7pm
Location: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

General Admission: Free

This programme is presented by the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden as part of the Heart of the City Festival, in partnership with the Vancouver Asian Film FestivalHapa-palooza Festival and CCHSBC. 
Canadian Shorts: Under Fire
Discover the secretive cooking methods and Chinatown's historical struggles with the iconic dish - roasted pig - against municipal, provincial, and federal legislation in this documentary short featuring rare soundbites from "Pender Guy", the 1970s grassroots radio program.

Under Fire: Inside a Chinese Roasted Meats Shop in Vancouver is the BCSA: VAFF Best Canadian Short Award 2016 Nominee.

Date: November 6, 2016
Time: 2pm
Location: Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas

General Admission: $8 (includes the VAFF membership)*

*If you already have a VAFF membership, then General Admission to 'Under Fire' is $6.
Copyright © 2016 Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC, All rights reserved. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Great "China Clipper" Normie Kwong

Still mourning the loss of one of our greatest Canadians, the "China Clipper" Normie Kwong. I had the honour of meeting and knowing The Honourable Norman Kwong because he and his wife Mary Kwong are the parents of one of my best friends, but I had known his story long before I first met him because he was an inspiration to so many kids (and adults) in Canada.

One of the great memories of my life will always be sitting down with Normie and Mary for an afternoon interviewing them with my student Jennifer Yip, who then edited highlights from the interview into an online short called "Clipping Barriers" (embedded above).  We had so much visual material from his career as a CFL star, as businessman and part owner of the Calgary Flames, as GM of the Calgary Stampeders, and as Lieutenant Governor of Alberta because his wife Mary and Normie's sister had carefully collected and saved newspaper clippings throughout his long and important career. We were able to digitally scan the materials and my student Woan-Jen Wang was able to put them in archival order before helping arrange their donation to the Alberta provincial archives, where those interested in his life and impact on Canadian society can use them for research.

As those who knew him well and spoke at his state funeral on September 13 attested, he was a warm and funny man who could put someone at ease as much through teasing and joking as through his genuinely kind heart. Deepest condolences to the Kwong family, and to all Canadians, for the loss of this truly historic figure.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

History shows racism has always been a part of Vancouver real estate

History shows racism has always been a part of Vancouver real estate

From Vancouver's founding in the 1850s to the arrival of Hong Kong immigrants in the 1980s and debates around foreign money in 2016, race has never been far from the centre of the city's real-estate industry
  • null
  • Chinese immigrants began settling in Vancouver in the 1850s but, after 1884, were barred from acquiring land directly from the Crown. By that time, merchants were well-established at locations along Carrall Street (pictured above in 1897) but the new laws put them at a distinct disadvantage to white land owners. James Matthews / Vancouver Archives
A message was recently scribbled across an overpass in Delta. “Stop the Asian invasion,” it reads.
Last summer, in Nanaimo, a real-estate advertisement that included Chinese writing was spray-painted over with a swastika and the words Go away.
These are visible manifestations of a racism that has grown out of British Columbians’ frustration with real-estate prices that have surpassed the affordability of many long-time residents.
And according to members of Vancouver’s various Chinese and Asian communities, there are other, more numerous but less-visible examples.
In a telephone interview, Thanh Lam said she has noticed animosity toward wealthy home buyers from Mainland China in her work as a mentor for the children of new immigrants to Vancouver.
“What I see is a lot of exclusion,” she said. “People assume that they are well off when they are not. Even if they are financially sustainable or if their families are financially okay, people don’t seem to have a lot of empathy for what they are going through.”
Lam described it as no less than a feeling of “discrimination”.
“It is really easy to place the blame on foreign buyers, and it is really easy to scapegoat the Chinese community,” she said. “But there are so many different types of Chinese people here and from many different migration paths.”
Will Tao is an immigration lawyer based in downtown Vancouver. On the phone from Shaoxing, China, where he happened to be visiting family, Tao delivered a list of anecdotes he’s heard from clients and friends. For example, he began, a young Chinese man he knows who drives a sports car repeatedly gets pulled over by police despite never exceeding the speed limit.
“I’ve had Chinese colleagues who are real-estate agents; they feel like they have to actively work hard to try and convince clients that they are not one of them [selling to foreign buyers],” Tao continued. “The first thing they have to say is, ‘I don’t deal in that; I don’t deal with Chinese clients. I am not that kind of practitioner’.
“I think that they have to justify that, as a Canadian citizen born here, is a sign that there is racial tension,” he said.

“The first moment where Chinese were unwanted”

In British Columbia, issues of land and race have intersected many times before.
Patricia Roy is a professor of history at the University of Victoria and the author of The Oriental Question: Consolidating a White Man's Province, 1914-41.  In a telephone interview, she explained that in the 1860s and 1870s, as white people settled what is today B.C., they began confining First Nations people to reserves.
The overwhelming majority of the remaining land belonged to the Crown, she told the Straight. Individuals could acquire land from the government by outright purchase, by leasing for such purposes as cattle ranching, or by "preemption", which allowed settlers to receive large tracts of land from the Crown for only nominal fees.
But by 1884, Roy continued, the arrival of thousands of Chinese workers building the Canadian Pacific Railway led to a growing anti-Chinese sentiment among the white ruling class. In turn, the provincial government enacted legislation denying Chinese people the right to buy, lease, or preempt Crown lands.
“White people could acquire land from the government at little or no cost,” Roy said. “Chinese people could not acquire land directly from the government…However, they could buy land from private owners.”
A two-tier system was set in law, and those rules remained in effect until after the Second World War.
“The Chinese were discriminated at every turn,” Roy concluded.
In the early 1900s, real estate was already a booming industry for Vancouver. According to a paper by UBC professor David Ley, in 1911 there was one real-estate agent for every 150 residents. “It was difficult to avoid the realtors,” reads a passage of that paper that might remind today’s homeowners of mailboxes stuffed with pamphlets inquiring if they’re ready to sell.
A white-dominated press was already making an issue of Chinese-immigrant spending on real estate. But in a twist of irony, the complaint was that they were not investing enough in housing, as a 1907 cartoon published in the Saturday Sunset depicts.

A cartoon published in a Vancouver newspaper in 1907 illustrated white residents’ unhappiness with how they perceived the living conditions of Chinese Canadians.
Simon Fraser University
Henry Yu, a UBC professor of history and expert in Chinese Canadian studies, places tensions in today’s real-estate industry in this context of earlier conversations around the same issues.
“From a historian’s point of view, this goes right back to the founding of Vancouver and to the founding of British Columbia,” he said. “Who could preempt Crown land? Who could take this free land? Only people from Europe. And so, right away, began this idea that only migrants coming from certain places are reaping the benefits of colonial land acquisition.
“That was one of the privileges of white supremacy,” Yu added. “That was the first moment where Chinese were unwanted.”

“No Asiatic, Negro or Indian”

From Vancouver’s founding in the late 1800s, legacies of racist land policies remained with the city, and debates tinged by xenophobia have been repeated.
In 2014, the National Post unearthed a collection of documents that illustrate how land titles were used to exclude minorities from specific properties and areas of the city.
“No Asiatic, Negro or Indian shall have the right or be allowed to own, become tenant of or occupy any part of [the property],” reads the title for a piece of residential land in South Vancouver.
A property title for a parcel of land in Victoria that’s dated 1952 similarly forbids transfer of the property to “anyone other than members of the Caucasian race”.
Such covenants are still included in property titles today, though an amendment to the B.C. Land Title Act renders them void. As they make clear, other visible minorities have been discriminated against alongside Chinese Canadians.
Kai Nagata recounted how his great-grandfather, Kumazo Nagata, travelled from Japan to B.C.’s Mayne Island in 1900. In September 1907, he was in Vancouver when anti-Asian racism that had been building throughout the Pacific Northwest boiled over into riots.
“My great-grandfather ran back to the Powell Street neighbourhood, where the Japanese community was centered,” Nagata, a writer and former journalist, told the Straight. “The mob arrives, the police are totally ineffective, and there is a street battle on Powell Street where the Japanese workers and the Caucasian mob got into it pretty good.”
The riot continued for three days and left many Chinese and Japanese properties badly damaged.

During the Second World War, Japanese Canadians saw the government confiscate and auction their property while they were held in internment camps. Vancouver resident Kai Nagata’s grandfather was held at Hastings Park (pictured above) before he was transferred to a long-term facility.
Public Archives of Canada
Four decades later, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour, Kumazo’s son and Kai’s grandfather, John Nagata, was removed from his family’s home on Mayne Island and confined at Hastings Park as part of the government's program of placing Japanese Canadians in internment camps.
Upon the Second World War’s conclusion, John and his family were allowed to leave the internment system, Nagata said. But by then, their property had long since been auctioned off.
“My analysis of the internment story is economic as well,” Nagata said. “It was an attack on anybody with Japanese heritage. And the response of the government was to seize the land.”
Much later, the Nagata’s received monetary compensation, but only a fraction of what their property was actually worth.
“My family has an interesting relationship on Mayne Island with the descendants of one of the families that obtained some of that land at auction,” Nagata said. “The Campbell Bay Music Festival takes place on a farm property that, at one time, was owned by my family. My grandfather is the guy who cleared that land.”
Today, Nagata said he sees his great-grandfather Kumazo’s third and fourth-generation Canadian descendants caught up in similar issues.
“My grandmother has been told to go back to China,” he said. “I think that we are treading over some very familiar ground if we choose to make this debate about how people look and what language they speak.”

A conversation Vancouver has had before

To understand how familiar today’s more heated rhetoric around Vancouver real estate feels to residents with long memories, one only has to watch a few minutes of a 1989 segment produced by BCTV, the network that became Global News.
The year before, the provincial government had sold the former site of Expo 86—a massive tract of land encircling the east end of False Creek—to Hong Kong developer Li Ka-shing for $340 million. Residential real-estate prices had skyrocketed more than 40 percent in recent years.
“The calm and serenity of Vancouver is nothing short of an illusion these days,” says a narrator near the beginning of the program.

Video of 1989 documentary on Asian investment in Vancouver
Concerns for foreign money in Vancouver real estate that aired in a 1989 segment produced by BCTV will sound familiar to people paying attention to today’s conversations about the same issue.
Global News
A man with a thick Scottish accent opens the segment. “I think something is going to have to be done about all the things that they are buying up,” he says. “Maybe some kind of law being passed, because they are buying everything, aren’t they?”
A narrator offers context.
“The problem is money and who owns it,” she says. “Every year, Hong Kong investors spend $2.5 billion in Canada, most of it on real estate.”
There are more concerns from locals. Then a voice for the government argues that its authority to regulate the sale of private property is limited.
“I think that Vancouver is seen as a very solid investment at the moment,” says a representative for the city. “Those are business decisions that are made irrespective of whatever we could do.”
A 1988 letter that a Shaughnessy resident sent to city council offers a sample of the public’s reaction to that wave of immigration and investment from Hong Kong.
“We—fairly reasonable people—fear the power that the Hong Kong money wields,” it reads. “We resent the fact that because they come here with pots of money they are able to mutilate the areas they choose to settle in.
“These people come—with no concern for our past—they have not been a part of the growth and development of our beautiful city—they have not been paying taxes for years,” it continues. “They have no right to devastate the residential areas.”
A 1992 letter from another resident of the same neighbourhood complains of properties used as vehicles for investment. “Now many of the people who own homes in the area don’t live here,” it reads. “The homes are empty. These homes are investments, perhaps one of many.”
In a telephone interview, Michael Goldberg, a professor emeritus at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, recalled that the interest in foreign ownership that ballooned those years prompted him to study who, exactly, was buying Vancouver real estate in the 1980s.
Newcomers to Canada from Hong Kong were active in the market, he found. But so were buyers from the United States, Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Interprovincial migration was also a “dominating” factor, he said. But, Goldberg added, all anybody wanted to talk about was money from Asia.
He said he sees the same thing happening today when, last May, for example, it was reported that China’s Anbang Insurance Group was purchasing the Bentall Centre, a four-building complex in Vancouver’s business district. Goldberg noted that the property is surrounded by similar towers owned by German firms.
“And yet what attracted attention was when a Chinese insurance company picked up parts of Bentall Centre,” he said. “That area is owned either by Canadian pension funds or by German interests. But that’s not very deserving of a headline.”

 A question of identity

Debates around the role of Chinese money in Vancouver real estate have shifted over the course of the past two years. They were once dominated by the phrase “foreign buyer”, with anecdotes about empty homes in Point Grey that served as little more than safety deposit boxes. But in March 2016, the City of Vancouver released a study that analyzed B.C. Hydro data that showed single-family and duplex homes have a vacancy rate of just one percent.
From there, debates shifted to revolve around the issue of foreign money and questions of how local residents could compete with newcomers who brought vast sums of wealth from businesses abroad.
On July 7, the provincial government released preliminary data on Metro Vancouver home sales that alluded to how difficult it could be to separate foreign money from local buyers. The province’s analysis found that for a three-week period in June, foreign buyers accounted for just 5.1 percent of homes sold across Metro Vancouver. If foreign money is playing a large role in Vancouver real estate, the study suggests, it is finding its way into the market through buyers that the government counts as domestic.
Yuen Pau Woo is a former CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and a senior fellow at both UBC and SFU. He told the Straight how he has watched the debate shift as described above, which makes him wonder if the next turn in the conversation will move to immigration.
“If it goes in that direction, we’ve got to ask ourselves, are we a country that is open to immigration or not?” Woo said. “Do we welcome newcomers or not? Do we embrace openness or not?”

Monday, July 11, 2016

Vancouver advocates aim to save Cantonese as language loses ground to Mandarin

Vancouver advocates aim to save Cantonese as language loses ground to Mandarin

More than 389,000 people in Canada speak Cantonese according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report but some in Vancouver worry the language is fading

Canadian-born Claudia Kelly Li and her seven-year old niece, Alanis Wong, both speak Cantonese but Li says elders should not shame the younger generation into learning Cantonese because it doesn’t work.
Jennifer Gauthier / Metro 

Canadian-born Claudia Kelly Li and her seven-year old niece, Alanis Wong, both speak Cantonese but Li says elders should not shame the younger generation into learning Cantonese because it doesn’t work. 
Cantonese has been the most prevalent language spoken by the Chinese-immigrant community in Vancouver for decades but now advocates say the language is under threat.
More than 389,000 people in Canada speak Cantonese according to a 2012 Statistics Canada report but changes in immigration trends and pressure from the Chinese government to establish Mandarin, the national language, as the dominant tongue in Hong Kong is having a dire effect on the southern-Chinese language.
But there is hope among some academics and long-time Vancouver residents that the city can remain an outpost for the Cantonese language and culture.
“Language tends to be frozen by migration. If you leave some place, you tend to speak the language as it was spoken at the moment you left,” said Henry Yu, a UBC professor whose research focuses on Chinese-Canadian studies.
“That’s why there’s hope that in a place like this, if we have a Cantonese program, it can last a long time.”
UBC became the only university in Canada to offer a Cantonese program in 2015, thanks to a $2 million donation from the Watt brothers, who are long-time Vancouver residents and UBC donors.
At first in Vancouver, when they opened a Chinese school, they were taught in Cantonese, but now almost all have changed to Mandarin,” said Chi Shum Watt, who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in the '70s.
“I want to keep [Cantonese] alive, if possible.”
Watt, a retired accountant who lived in Vancouver’s westside for most of his life and now lives in the endowment lands, saw the change in migration and language firsthand.
More than 400,000 immigrants from mainland China, who mostly speak Mandarin, entered Canada between 1997 (the year of the handover of Hong Kong to China) and 2009, compared to only 50,000 immigrants from Hong Kong, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. This marks a significant change in migration patterns because in the 13 years before the handover, Hong-Kong immigrants outnumbered mainland China immigrants three to one.
This dramatic migration switch, coupled with the growing influence of China’s economy, where business is conducted in Mandarin, makes the preservation of Cantonese a lofty goal.
The heyday of Cantonese and Hong Kong’s influence in the world is over, said Yu.
“Hong Kong was the bastion in the 80s and 90s for Cantonese.”
The Chinese government has been successful in making Mandarin the dominant language in Hong Kong, he said.
“Within China it’s actually over the tipping point. Mandarin is the dominant language. It’s the language of power, it’s the language of education – it’s the language of civilization now.”
But Vancouver represents a unique opportunity for Cantonese immigrants and their children, who now live far away from the realities of Chinese politics. It’s possible Vancouver can become a last “outpost” for Cantonese, said Yu.
“Because of the large number of people who came in the 70s and 90s, who came from Hong Kong, are shaped by that moment in Hong Kong’s history where a sense of being of Hong Kong identity – of Cantonese at the heart of it – was so strong.”
At the direction of the Chinese government, schools in Hong Kong are starting to teach in Mandarin, which means that even new immigrants from Hong Kong often choose to speak Mandarin when they arrive in Vancouver. One of the only remaining sources of new Cantonese speakers is the offspring of Hong Kong immigrants and their children.
But some of those offspring are turned off by the pressures put onto them by their elders.
Claudia Kelly Li (shown here sitting with niece Alanis Wong) says language is an important way through which youth can connect with their heritage.
Jennifer Gauthier
Claudia Kelly Li (shown here sitting with niece Alanis Wong) says language is an important way through which youth can connect with their heritage.
“We can’t shame our young people about not being able to speak a certain language,” said 30-year old Claudia Li, who co-founded the Hua Foundation, an organization that aims to help Chinese-Canadian youth connect with their heritage.
“Yes it’s important to preserve Cantonese language and it’s important to understand how we can best do that with the interest that people have today.”
Li was born in Canada to parents who immigrated to Vancouver from Hong Kong in the 80s. Helping youth connect with their heritage with language, food, and traditions is her life’s work, she said.
But persuading Canadian youth to learn Cantonese when Mandarin is undoubtedly the more useful of the two languages is a battle few parents win, said Yu.
Li, who credits her Cantonese proficiency to her relatives who only speak Cantonese, agrees.
“If you grow up as a 2nd generation or 3rd generation Chinese-Canadian … a lot of my friends have chosen to learn Mandarin,” she said.
But there is hope because some youth continue to learn Cantonese, including both people whose parents or grandparents speak it and Mandarin-speakers who want to add Cantonese to their repertoire.
Students in UBC’s Cantonese program come from a wide variety of backgrounds, instructor Raymond Pai told Metro in June.
Watt, who made the program possible with his and his brother’s donation, acknowledged that UBC can only play a small role in the efforts to preserve Cantonese.
“It can never replace Hong Kong. If Hong Kong people start to speak Mandarin, then I think Cantonese will be gone in 20 years or so,” he said.
But if Cantonese can be preserved, it will happen in Vancouver, said Yu.
“I’m hopeful that [the program] gives us momentum and as people realize and think about what we’re talking about right now, that other people will step forward and say yes – this is worthwhile.”