Due to research by UBC Okanagan students Ross Huyskamp and Lindsay Amantea, Kelowna’s old Chinatown district is to receive Heritage recognition.
The Community Heritage Commission selected the former Chinatown site located east of Abbott between Harvey and Leon avenues to be recognized officially as a Heritage site. The site has great historical significance for Kelowna as it once was a very important location for migrant Chinese workers in the late 19th century who came to British Columbia in search of Gold and work as the unemployment situation at the time in China was dismal at best.
The area was researched earlier in the year by Huyskamp and Amantea here at UBC Okanagan. On October 4th Kelowna City Council announced that because of the historical importance of what the UBC-O students had found in their research, it is necessary that signage and interpretive markers be put in place to recognize Chinatown’s role in the development of Kelowna as we know it today. The project will be led by City Hall Planning Specialist Maria Stanborough, though contributions from the UBC-O History Department in the planning of the project are expected.
Along with the signage that will be posted the CHC is recommending that a plaque commemorating the visit of Sun Yat-sen to Kelowna in 1911. That year of course marks the year of the Xinhai Revolution in China making Yat-sen’s visit even more extraordinary. Yat-sen came to Kelowna and the interior British Columbia to raise money for his revolution because of the dense Chinese population that had now resided there. According to the research done, around 15% of Kelowna was of Chinese origin in 1911. This is a massive number considering that now the percentage of Chinese in Kelowna is not even 1%.
However, the importance of this period in Kelowna history is certainly not being overlooked. In 2004, Kelowna was given the “Cultural Capital of Canada” award by Canadian Heritage and the Community Heritage Commission is certainly taking every opportunity to recognize the important aspects of our past. Huyskamp presented his findings from his research on Chinatown to the CHC on August 5th of this year and made several recommendations including several ways of displaying the history throughout the area. One of the ways that he recommended was having telephones in place near the signage where tourists could pick up the phone and hear an automated oral history of their location and its significance.
Though he found that most buildings in the area do not date back to Chinatown’s existence in Kelowna, he made note to the Heritage Council that changes are made to the Heritage registry’s current information of historical significance—finding that prior information about Chinatown and its buildings were in fact incorrect. He also recommended that Chinatown history be incorporated into the Downtown Kelowna Museum in the form of a virtual tour that would give guests a very in-depth look at the way things used to be.
Whether or not these ideas will be acted upon in the future is yet to be seen, these discoveries are a major gain for the CHC, UBC-O, and the greater community.