People, East Asian, Asian Heritage, Museums
By Sarah Romkey
Wallace Bakfu Chung began assembling what would become one of British Columbia’s most important research collections at the age of six, when he was inspired by a poster hanging in his father’s Victoria, B.C. tailor shop. The poster depicted the Canadian Pacific’s Empress of Asia, the ship on which his mother immigrated to Canada in 1919. Starting with newspaper clippings and scrapbooks, Chung began collecting items pertaining to the immigration experience of Chinese people to Canada, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, and early B.C. history.
Dr. Chung’s grandfather left China for the California goldfields, eventually settling in Victoria in 1887. A decade later, Chung’s father immigrated to Victoria. Wallace was born in Victoria, and was educated at Victoria College, University of British Columbia (UBC) and McGill University, where he studied medicine. He returned to Vancouver in 1953 and married Dr. Madeline Chung (née Huang), who was born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong. Wallace and Madeline were among the first Chinese Canadians to pursue careers in medicine. Wallace Chung specialized in vascular surgery, and became a professor of surgery at the UBC and Head of the Department of Surgery at the UBC Hospital. He retired in 1991. Madeline was one of the first female doctors in Canada to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. For a time, as the only Chinese speaking OB/GYN in Vancouver, she was called upon to deliver many of the Chinese-Canadian children born in the Lower Mainland, totalling over 6,500 babies in the span of her career.
In addition to their impressive medical careers, Wallace and Madeline made names for themselves in the Vancouver Chinese community as philanthropists and active participants in cultural, historical and social issues. Wallace was a member of numerous boards, including the British Columbia Heritage Trust, the Vancouver Chinese Cultural Centre, and the Maritime Museum. He was also a member of the Canadian Multiculturalism Council, which drafted the Multiculturalism Act in 1987. Madeline is a founding member of the True Light Chinese School. Madeline and Wallace are the namesakes of the Vancouver Maritime Museum Library, which was built in 1993 thanks to their donations. Wallace received the Order of Canada in 2005 and the Order of British Columbia in 2006.
The Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection was donated to the UBC Library in 1999. Housed in the Rare Books and Special Collections branch, the collection numbers over 25,000 items and is valued at more than C$5 million. Described as a national treasure, the collection covers three broad themes: early B.C. history, immigration and settlement, and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
The early B.C. history theme consists of books, maps, photographs, documents and artifacts relating to all aspects of B.C. history. This area of the collection is particularly rich in materials that describe the discovery of B.C. by European explorers, as described in first-hand accounts of their voyages of discovery. Highlights include first editions of the narratives of eighteenth-century explorers such as James Cook, George Vancouver, Dionisio Galiano, Ivan Kruzenshtern and Etienne Marchand. Several important early B.C. monographs and broadsides are included, such as the Order in Council constituting the Supreme Court of Civil Justice of Vancouver Island (1858), thought to be the first book published in B.C. Material published more recently includes ephemeral items such as tourism brochures and souvenirs from B.C.’s centenary in 1958 as well as a large collection of secondary sources on all aspects of B.C. history.
The immigration and settlement theme is perhaps best known for its material on the experience of Chinese Canadians. Photographs, documents and artifacts tell stories of the struggles and eventual successes of Chinese immigrants and their descendants in fields such as business, politics and the arts. The collection holds a portion of the Yip family and Yip Sang Company fonds; the City of Vancouver Archives holds the remainder. This archival material documents the way in which Yip Sang rose from selling coal door-to-door to being a highly respected businessman and the “unofficial mayor” of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Archival material of the Dart Coon Club and Chinese Freemasons of Victoria is also held in the collection. Anti-Asian ephemera are present and serve as a grim reminder that Canada was not always welcoming to Asian immigrants. In addition to material related to Chinese Canadians, the collection also holds a significant aggregation of material related to Chinese immigration to the United States. The collection also holds a portion of the A. MacDonnel fonds, the archival material of a Scottish reverend responsible for the immigration of several hundred families from the Scottish Hebrides and Northern Ireland to Alberta.
In addition to the archival material, the Chung Collection holds an impressively thorough library collection related to immigration and settlement. Searchers will find primary and secondary sources on the immigration and diaspora of people from many different countries. Popular writings and fiction from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries reflect white attitudes toward immigrants. Highlights include government documents regarding Chinese immigration to Canada, the United States and New South Wales, Australia. The collection also holds fiction and non-fiction by Asian Canadian and American authors such as Paul Yee, Wayson Choy and David Ishii.
Finally, the collection holds one of the largest research collections on the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR). Dovetailing into the collection’s documents on Asian immigration and the Chinese experience in North America, the CPR section of the Chung Collection tells the story of the building of the railway, the CPR steamship services, and the experiences of travelers on CPR ships, trains and planes. The collection is rich not only in archival materials originating from the CPR and publications about the CPR, but also in artifacts and graphic material, reflecting travel and tourism in a bygone era. The collection came full circle when Dr. Chung acquired a model of the ship that brought his mother to Canada, the Empress of Asia. Dr. Chung has said that this is his favourite item in the collection, and for good reason: after purchasing it in a dilapidated condition, he spent some 4,000 hours over six years restoring it to its current pristine condition.
Wallace and Madeline’s gift to the UBC Library is truly a gift to all British Columbians and Canadians. Upon donating the collection in 1999, Wallace said, “we are giving the collection to UBC so as many people as possible can have the opportunity to understand and appreciate the struggles and joys of those who have come before them.”
Take a virtual tour of the Chung Collection space at this link.