The historic Wing Sang Building in Vancouver’s Chinatown will soon become a tourist and educational destination as the new Chinese Canadian Museum. And the Chinese Canadian Museum Society of British Columbia, which owns the building, will receive an additional $10 million from the province.
According to a government news release, this will be “to support renovations and operating costs” in advance of opening day on July 1.
“The impact of offsetting operational costs also means more time and care is dedicated to developing the visitor experience, essential to the museum’s success,” Chinese Canadian Museum CEO Melissa Karmen Lee said in the release.
The latest funding lifts the provincial contribution to $48.5 million. It’s the third very large provincial grant, following $10 million in 2020 and another $27.5 million last year.
Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Minister Lana Popham sees this as a worthwhile investment.
“The historic Wing Sang Building in Vancouver Chinatown will bring people from all over the world to learn about the significant contributions of Chinese Canadians to British Columbia and Canada, both past and present,” she said in the release.
Two years ago, the B.C. government released this video about the museum.
Museum still home to old Chinese schoolroom
Businessman Yip Sang built the Wing Sang Building at 51 East Pender in the late 19th century for his import-export company. It was a roaring success, notwithstanding intense discrimination faced by Chinese immigrants in those years.
In 2004, real-estate marketer Bob Rennie bought the building to house his company offices and his private art museum. He then invested more than $20 million to upgrade the façade and the interior.
Meanwhile, the Wing Sang Building still includes an old Chinese schoolroom, including the blackboard, which was preserved by Rennie.
Last year, Rennie sold the red-brick building to the society. This came after the province had announced its $27.5-million grant. In addition, the rennie foundation revealed that it contributed $7.8 million to the society.
Society faces hot-button issues
After the first grant was announced, Vancouver journalist Ng Weng Hoong wrote a lengthy article about potential challenges facing the museum operator in the future.
“For most of Canada’s history, it has been easy to speak of a monolithic Chinese community whose identity and stories were shaped by the experience of state-sanctioned racism,” Ng, who specializes on China and Chinese issues, wrote. “B.C.’s Chinese Question could be covered in a single editorial, as evidenced in the oldest surviving copy of a Vancouver newspaper, dated January 15, 1886.
“But narrating the contemporary Chinese experience will pose a bigger challenge as the stories are not as clear cut,” he continued. “For it to be considered world-class, the museum will have to push political and social boundaries, and accept controversy. There are at least five hot-button issues that the museum will have to address to deal with the evolving Chinese Question in B.C.”
According to Ng, they include: diversity within the Chinese community; China’s shadow over the diaspora; and contemporary scapegoating of the Chinese in connection with housing, money-laundering, and opioids. He also cited racism in the time of the pandemic and ongoing underrepresentation of the Chinese community in B.C.’s political, corporate, cultural, academic, and media establishments.
“What does it mean for people of varying identities trying to find their place in a world rocked by the culture wars, racial injustice protests, economic uncertainties, and China’s decoupling from the West?” Ng asked in his concluding paragraph. “When Chinese Canadians can tell their stories within this context, they have a better chance of finding belonging in the province.”