Speaking at the Royal B.C. Museum Thursday, Frank Low told an audience about how its newest exhibition affected his family.
“To our family, what it means is a recording of history,” he said.
Museum staff contacted the Lows, along with several other members of Victoria’s Chinese-Canadian community, as they pieced together research and testimonials about the country’s oldest Chinatown.
Frank’s grandfather Kai Ho Low was one of the donors listed on the oldest known Chinese Freemasons lantern in Victoria — an item in the museum’s collection dated from between 1910 and 1930 — and the family was invited to see it.
“My dad saw it for the very first time. It began a whole series of investigations on our part, just to see where our family fit in the history of Victoria’s Chinatown,” he said.
That handmade paper and bamboo lantern is the centrepiece of Tradition in Felicities, an exhibit that opened Thursday.
Other features include historic maps and photos, video interviews with the Lows and three other families about life in Chinatown and how Chinese New Year was celebrated in the mid-20th century.
Victoria city councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe also spoke about her father Jon Joe (Chow), who is the only known witness to the lantern in operation, and who was interviewed for the exhibition.
At 91, he is also one of the oldest, if not the oldest, and longest-surviving member of the Chinese Freemasons, she said.
“Having this exhibit gave many of us the opportunity to share our stories, our joy and often our sorrow, of our lives during the 20th century in Chinatown,” she said.
“It’s important that historically we do not forget the contributions of the early Chinese settlers to our city. And as a person of Chinese ancestry, it’s important for me not to ever forget the sacrifices that those before me made to give me and my family a better life, with better opportunities in Canada.”
History curator Tzu-I Chung said interviews with community members helped build an understanding of a unique time and space.
“Tradition in Felicities showcases the distinctive heritage of Victoria’s Chinatown, both as an important early gateway between Asia-Pacific and North America and as an important site for Chinese-Canadian community development through the centuries,” she said.
Tradition in Felicities is presented as part of a “Chinatown Celebration,” in collaboration with Victoria Symphony. The symphony will première Chan Ka Nin’s Harmonious Interest March 15.
155 years of history
What: Tradition in Felicities: Celebrating 155 Years of Victoria’s Chinatown
When: Through Sept. 29
Where: Royal B.C. Museum
Admission: $16 adults; $10.15 seniors/students/youth; $42.15 family, children free
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