provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Friday, January 27, 2017

Media Stories about All Our Father's Relations

Out today online a great story by Joanne Lee-Young in the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver Province, and the Calgary Herald (and in the print versions tomorrow--Saturday, January 28), for Chinese News Years and the screening of All Our Father's Relations downtown...

Musqueam siblings trace father's roots to China and find little-told B.C. history

Published on: January 27, 2017

Howard Grant on the banks of the Fraser River at the Musqueam reserve in Vancouver along with film producer Sarah Ling. MARK VAN MANEN / PNG

At the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on Saturday night, there will be a different kind of Lunar New Year event, one rooted in less-inclusive and shameful times of race relations in Canada.

It’s a special showing of All Our Father’s Relations, a documentary film about the Grant siblings, three brothers and a sister, the children of a Chinese father and a Musqueam mother.

Over many years, they were shuttled between their childhood home on Musqueam land in south Vancouver and Chinatown as government policies that discriminated against both Chinese immigrants and First Nations separated their family.

Their father, Hong Tim Hing, left southern China in 1920 on a steamship bound for Vancouver, using a “paper name,” illegal documents that made him out to be the blood relative of another settled Chinese worker, and paying a steep head tax to gain entry. He laboured at vegetable farms, living in a bunkhouse there with other Chinese workers. They were all male and single in a faraway land. He eventually met and married their mother, Agnes Grant.

“My mother was the last fluent speaker of hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, our language,” said Howard E. Grant, the youngest brother. “She connected our community.”

The film highlights the cooperation between Chinese and First Nations in early B.C. history. There were about 20 vegetable farms on Musqueam land in the 1950s that supplied produce across Vancouver. And even earlier, there were gold mining operations along the Fraser River where Chinese workers built businesses on First Nations land. 

The film is also a compelling story of family reunion, respect for elders and ancestors, and a welcoming of fresh beginnings, which exemplify the core of how and why the Lunar New Year holiday exists.

“Those are actually the underlying values that have become more eroded now in practice,” said University of B.C. history professor Henry Yu.
The film follows the Grant siblings on their first trip in 2013 from Vancouver to Sei Moon, the village near Zhongshan in China’s southern Guangdong province that their father had left almost a century ago. 

In an outdoor courtyard, they meet Cantonese-speaking relatives, including the youngest brother of their late father. There are hugs and later, tears.

Howard and Larry Grant from Vancouver (centre and right) meet their father’s youngest brother, Lai Sook, in Sei Moon, southern China.  ALEJANDRO YOSHIZAWA / HANDOUT

Said Howard of one relative he met that day: “I found out, that that lady is Uncle Tommy’s daughter.” Grant said his uncle, whom he grew up with and loved, had followed his father to Canada. “What can I say to a woman, who was about my age, who said, ‘Did you know my dad?”

There are other poignant moments. The siblings moved from Musqueam to Chinatown when, with their mother, they were stripped of their status under the Indian Act because their father was not aboriginal. But, growing up in Chinatown with a father who scorned the poor Cantonese language skills of his half-aboriginal children meant they escaped the horrors of the residential schools, which their cousins did not.

The film, directed by Alejandro Yoshizawa and produced by UBC history graduate Sarah Ling, has already won some awards and is gaining interest. Organizers this week added a second screening at 9:15 p.m in addition to the earlier sold out show. (Ticket info is available online at
Since that first trip, Grant has made another trip to the village and then to other parts of China to learn more about things he feels he has known all his life.

“They were like us. They burned (offerings) for their dead. They fed their dead. They had ceremony. From a cultural perspective, in regards to (eating at) a round table, we have our long house in a circle as well. It gives opportunity for dialogue. Confrontation was not a position we took. It was more, ‘let me hear what you have to say and then let’s talk about it.’ We were so close.”

Thursday, January 26, 2017

All Our Father's Relations 7pm show sold out on Jan. 28 but 9pm show added

The response to All Our Father's Relations has been phenomenal. The special Chinese New Year's screening on Saturday, January 28 has been sold out almost a week beforehand, and to accommodate the high demand a second showing that night at 9pm has been added. Get your tickets before that show sells out too!

Tickets at:

Media attention to the film has been great. I had the pleasure of being on Minelle Mahtani's Sense of Place show on Tuesday morning with Howard Grant and Sarah Ling to talk about All Our Father's Relations. The clip of the conversation can be heard at:

A powerful and moving moment hearing Howard speak about what the experience of making the film, and going to his father's home village in China had meant to him...

Minelle, me, Howard, and Sarah

A story appeared last week in the Courier, and another in the Source this week. Another story will be in the Vancouver Sun for Chinese New Years and Elder Larry Grant and Sarah will be on CBC's On the Coast Friday. 


Documentary connects histories of Chinese immigrants and Musqueam
All Our Father’s Relations screens Jan. 28

JANUARY 20, 2017 12:31 PM

Filmmaker Sarah Ling travelled with Larry Grant and his family to their ancestral home in southern China. Grant’s father left the village of Sei Moon and moved to Vancouver in 1920 where he eventually married Agnes Grant, who was of Musqueam descent. 
Photo Dan Toulgoet

Surrounded by total strangers in a tiny village in southern China, Larry Grant experienced a pivotal, if not uniquely bizarre, moment that instantly tied to him a past generation.


It was November 2013, and Grant was flanked by three of his siblings and a documentary film crew tasked with travelling to the family patriarch’s place of birth.
Strangers on the surface, some of those Chinese villagers who greeted the Vancouver group turned out to be blood relatives.
“They were feeding us and introducing us to cousins, nephews and nieces that we had never met when along comes an uncle I didn’t know that I had,” Grant recalled. “I was taken aback. Holy smokes. He was a spitting image of an uncle that had come to Canada and lived for 20-plus years here before his death. Here was this guy who looked like he stepped out of the grave. It was unbelievable.”
The re-unification process that played out is a central theme to the film All Our Father’s Relations, which screens in Vancouver on Jan. 28 at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts to coincide with the Chinese New Year.
The film follows the interconnected histories, relationships and hardships experienced by both Chinese- Canadian immigrants and First Nations from across Metro Vancouver.
The Grant family’s story is a microcosm of those experiences and stories. Grant’s father, Hong Tim Hing, left the village of Sei Moon and moved to Vancouver in 1920. He worked on farmland located on Musqueam territory, and eventually married Agnes Grant, who was of Musqueam descent.
Government legislation of the day, however, prohibited the couple from living together on the reserve; Hing was forced to live apart from the rest of the family. Even though his parents were married, Grant likened his upbringing to being raised in a single-parent home.
Barriers upon barriers targeting Chinese-Canadians and indigenous populations are featured throughout the film: the Indian Act, residential schools, the banning of potlatchs and the Chinese Head Tax, among others. 
The film calls attention to those past wrongs, but also highlights the resilience required to live through those experiences.
“All of those hardships that were endured by our ancestors, of not having parity, equality and equity in society — I would like the viewers to have a better understanding of that,” said Grant, who’s now 80 and still living on the main Musqueam reserve in South Vancouver. “A lot of things were said and done. But you just did your best. I just kept pushing and pushing.”
Grant graduated from high school in 1955 and went on to a career as an auto machinist and heavy duty mechanic in the longshore industry. He now works at UBC in the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program, to help keep the Musqueam language alive.
It was at UBC that Grant first crossed paths with Sarah Ling, a history student and fledgling documentary filmmaker at the time. Their initial collaboration was a trilingual children’s book based on Grant’s life that was published in English, Chinese and the Musqueam language, hən'q'əmin'əm.’
The plan to hatch the film was then born in 2013, shortly before the Grants left for China. In her role as producer, Ling helped family members tell their story and lined up the logistics of the filming and editing process.
Along with director Alejandro Yoshizawa, Ling witnessed first-hand the reunification of families once separated by more than 10,000 kilometres.
“It was really profound — when they first saw their uncle and embraced him, I think it was hard for them to speak,” she said. “You could see so many memories flooding back. I felt really privileged to be there.”
The Grants were in Sei Moon for less than 48 hours. Documenting the trip, bridging the cultural gap and establishing communication — they had three translators along — was pivotal. A journal written in Cantonese was shown to Grant that traced centuries of his father’s roots in China.
“I was told, ‘You are the 17th generation of this house.’ Oh my God. That was my reaction,” he said. “Going there and being hugged and fed, it’s not just something in a book at that point. To be embraced and hear someone say, ‘This is where you belong, this is where you come from’ was very emotional.”  Tickets for All Our Father’s Relations are available online only and cost $15. The screening kicks off at 6:30 p.m. at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Ticket info is available online at

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

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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
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  • 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?”