Plum Blossom from the Bitter Cold: Selections from the Chinese Canadian Archive | Exhibit Digest

October 28, 2019 | David

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Interior of gallery with cases with items and a person examining a Chinese document displayed in a frame

This post reproduces parts of the exhibit, Plum Blossom from the Bitter Cold: Selections from the Chinese Canadian Archive. Below is the main wall text from the exhibit and a small sample of exhibit items.

The exhibit was on display in TD Gallery at the Toronto Reference Library from August 17 to October 27, 2019. 



Plum Blossom From the Bitter Cold: Selections from the Chinese Canadian Archive

Toronto Public Library's award-winning Chinese Canadian Archive (CCA) provides a home for materials that capture the fascinating history of Chinese Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area. Through photos, correspondence, diaries, memorabilia, and other donated records, the Archive documents Chinese Canadians' daily life, community spirit, and contributions to our city and to Canada.

The CCA won Heritage Toronto's 2018 Public History Award for its work documenting Chinese Canadian history in the GTA from 1914 to the present. The library was delighted to be honoured in this way. New collections are continually being added to the Archive and each is maintained by a team of library staff members including the collection curator, conservators and digitization specialists.

We welcome you to join us for this look at an ambitious work in progress. It is our hope to inspire you to consider your own family's records: they are valuable documents, whether they remain cared for within the family, or are donated to an archive such as this one. The story of our city and our country is told not only by official documents like statutes and treaties, but also by the kinds of documents that you will see in this exhibition.

Two images  one with two children on a large tricycle and one of a ribbon reading Wong's 1996 National Convention
Left: Mavis and Dennis Chu on a tricycle, courtesy of Mavis Garland. Right: Name badge of Wai Ching Wong at Wongs' National Convention, Edmonton: 1996, gift of Nelson Wong.


Photographs in the Chinese Canadian Archive

At the heart of any collection of family papers are its photos. Whether they are kept in scrapbooks, shoeboxes or as digital files, photos both remind us of beloved family members and give us insight into those who came before us. This selection of photos from various donors is just a small glimpse of a diverse community.

Two photos  one with a mother and father with two children and another photo of a man dressed in a pilot's uniform at an airport
Left: Henry Chu and Ethel Frances Bradfield Nealon with their children, courtesy Mavis Garland. Right: Robert Wong at Toronto Island Airport, 1946.
Men's basketball game in progress in a gym
Basketball game played in the Toronto Chinese United Church, 1957, courtesy Mary-Esther Lee.


The Chinese Head Tax

The Chinese head tax was a discriminatory tariff charged to Chinese immigrants as part of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. A substantial levy of $50, which eventually grew to $500, was charged to anyone who applied to acquire the necessary Head Tax Certificate. Although the tax ended in 1923, it was immediately followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act which banned Chinese immigration until 1947. An official apology for these policies and practices was issued by the federal government in 2006.

Certificate titled Dominion of Canada Immigration Branch Departement of the Interior showing a stamped portrait of a young man with signatures
Head Tax certificate issued to Fong Wah Yen, Dominion of Canada Immigration Branch, 1914. The certificate had to be carried ​during travel in and out of Canada, as evidenced by the folds and signs of wear.
Official Chinese document with pasted on photo of young man
Chinese Government Southwest Affairs Committee certificate of study abroad for Wong Wait Chung, Guangdong Sheng, China, 1934.


Scenes of Toronto's Chinatown in the Canadian Documentary Art Collection

The Chinese Canadian Archive builds on existing resources in the Toronto Public Library's Special Collections. The Canadian Documentary Art Collection documents the history of Toronto and other places in Ontario and Canada in paintings, drawings, postcards and photographs, including the Toronto Star Photograph Archive.

Two photos  one of a woman posing in front of store signs with Toronto City Hall in background and another photog of Chinatown full of people
Left: Jean Lumb, photo by Doug Griffin, 1967, Toronto Star Photograph Archive. Right: Dundas West at Spadina Avenue, photo by Erin Combs, 1977, Toronto Star Photograph Archive.

Edit: corrected information about the head tax certificate which had previously stated that it had to be carried at all times. March 24, 2021.