On December 22, friends of Vancouver activist Sid Chow Tan gathered with his family members at the Russian Hall to celebrate his life.
Tan, leader of a long-running campaign for Chinese exclusion and head-tax redress, was fond of saying “My activism is my art.” This was reflected in his many documentaries and interviews, which were broadcast for decades on cable television.
Tan died on September 26 at the age of 73.
Tan was truly a man ahead of his time on many issues, including the climate crisis, race relations, immigration reform, and the political consequences of growing corporate concentration of media.
Video: Sid Tan speaks about his family history and how he became an activist.
Longtime Vancouver East MP Libby Davies was unable to make it to the celebration of life, but she sent the following message.
Dear friends and family of Sid,
I am so sorry I cannot be there in person today, because I would if I could. I have no doubt the gathering will be strong, beautiful and full of meaning for everyone, because it emanates from the powerful and positive impact Sid had on our community and all of us personally.
I cannot recall the exact day or even year I first encountered Sid, but it sure goes way back to the ’70s! He was a young ‘un (as Jean Swanson would say) working on community TV and covering community news and events and even city hall.
Even back then, I was always struck by Sid’s direct and no BS way of approaching everything and everyone. He would always look you in the eye and tell it like it is. I liked that. I sure appreciated and admired his community media savvy skills and his dedication to go after the story and make sure the community folks were heard 100 percent. He never left people out.
Later, I had the good fortune to support and work with Sid in his epic and courageous campaign to gain an official apology for the awful historic wrong of the head tax and for compensation. Wow—to see him in action was quite something. He organized, he supported the elders in the Chinese community, he spoke truth to power, and he never took no for an answer.
These were times when it was not popular to advocate for head tax redress—and regrettably there were leaders in the community and elected representatives who wanted nothing to do with righting the wrong of Canada’s history. But Sid never gave up and he never lost faith in the integrity of his own family history and that of the community overall. I remember so clearly the day community members gathered at Thornton Park near the train station as a new journey began to Ottawa for the official apology by the government of Canada. I know it would not have happened without the slogging and enduring work of Sid Chow Tan.
Over many decades I was honoured to call him friend, neighbour, political ally, and community champion. I loved his smile and deep laugh and that straggly hair and beard, as he peered at you intently, launching into action. What a true leader of the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown he was. We can learn from his leadership that was always empathetic, loving, and caring of people.
As we mourn our loss of this giant in our community, we also celebrate his life and times, and know he was simply the best.
Rest In Peace Sid, your memory and work continue with us all.
Former City Councillor, MP, and former local resident