2019 · Photography, Interviews

Journeying through Chinatowns

"Shaped by commerce, poverty, and community ties, British Columbia’s Chinatowns housed the majority of the ethnic Chinese immigrants who settled in early, segregated Vancouver. These spaces, although transformed, remain today.

"Journeying through Chinatowns includes work by three Vancouver-based photographers who strive to capture the present-day conditions of historical Chinatowns in Vancouver, Richmond, and New Westminster. Through their photographs, they seek to share these evolving spaces and their significance to the people who inhabit them."

Originally photographed for the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Finding Chinese Canadian roots in Steveston, BC

When approached by the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, I was asked to document Steveston, a historical fishing village located in the southwest tip of Richmond, BC. While Richmond has a prevalent Chinese Canadian presence, I never gathered this from Steveston.

Growing up in the Lower Mainland, visits to Steveston meant walks along the boardwalk, fish and chips, and ice cream. Souvenir shops lined the waterfront and fresh seafood was sold only a few steps away. In recent years, the boardwalk expanded and new commercial and residential developments have slowly popped up.

Prior to developing this series of work, I was unaware of Steveston's connection to Chinese migrant workers.

Jack Chong, 60
Marine Garage

“The Marine gas station, that’s what I remember as a kid. Growing up, it was there and it’s still there too. It’s still one of the things that I see left that hasn’t changed. They don’t pump gas, but it’s still there.”

A man on rollerblades with his hands in the air.

陈晓征 (chén xiǎo zhēng), 24
Dyke, near the Imperial Landing Docks

I’d blade with my family after dinner everyday because my parents went for walks on the dyke. The dyke was nice and flat and long, so I would skate behind them and in front of them and around, and I ended up teaching my sister how to blade as well just for funsies. Now it’s surprising how much of an integral part of my identity it encapsulates because I have bladed in every city I’ve traveled to.”

陈晓征 (chén xiǎo zhēng) and 陈晓易 (chén xiǎo yì), 16
Garry Point Park

“I remember at Garry Point, we’d build those little houses with wooden sticks . . . and then also we would just bike around Garry Point a lot. Once I followed Alan (陈晓征 (chén xiǎo zhēng)) and his friends at Garry Point to this secret little bush thing. You look around and it’s like a room, but made out of bush or something. But then there are so many mosquitos…” (陈晓易 (chén xiǎo yì))

“While the history of migrant Chinese workers in Steveston, on unceded traditional xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) territory, has long passed, capturing stories for Journeying through Chinatowns allowed me some insight on growing up as Chinese Canadian in the village in more recent years. The focus of my work was on places each person felt represented their connection to Steveston, but our conversations encompassed so many more stories. From most subjects, I learned of the sparse population of Chinese folks since well before the 1960s, further discussing who lives here now and asking who lived here before. We discussed the decline of the fishing industry, the demise of BC Packers, and how the tourism industry has affected economic access within the village. In contrast, we also laughed over stories of banned chopsticks, go-karting in the street, and fun at summer festivals. The work presented offers more heartened perspectives, but I encourage viewers to consider the alternative viewpoints.”

As written for Journeying through Chinatowns

Lydia Luk, 35
Timothy’s Frozen Yogurt

“My dad and I would rollerblade or bike to Steveston [in the summer]. We would either get fish and chips from the wharf or we would get Timothy’s Frozen Yogurt, and I really, really loved Timothy’s. I’m obsessed with it. I love the waffles, I love the frozen yogurt. I love being able to pick the fruit that you want and I love the imperfections of it.”

Read the interview ➤

Richard Chong, 64
The Fab Pad

“That was the secondhand shop back then. It was owned by Rod’s Building Supplies and I remember going in there and paying $5 we had saved up to buy my first bicycle there. That’s all we could afford . . . and the only reason my mom helped me buy that bike was because I had gotten a paper route from my cousin because he was too old for it. I think I was about 10.”

Melody Cheung, 24
Point House, Britannia Shipyards

“My friends would walk around back and forth on the docks just hanging out when we were growing up . . . I think it’s interesting to be a person in the present looking in and being present in that particular space because it’s one thing to read something in a textbook, but I think it’s another thing to stand in a place where histories have happened and continue to happen, and being able to see that with your own eyes is very different from seeing it in a picture.”