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Exhibition a ‘tribute’ to Chinese Canadian community

The perseverance and resilience of the Quan family, one of the longest-living Chinese families in Markham, is among the stories featured in an exhibition that commemorates the contributions of the Chinese Canadian community to the development of Canada and highlights the history of Chinese immigration to York Region.

The exhibition, Standing in the Doorway: Lived Histories & Experiences of the Chinese Community, is on display at the Markham Museum until February 25, 2024. A travelling version of the exhibition will then tour York Region schools and public spaces through 2025.

Peter Quan and Lai Shing Mark arrived in Canada as teenagers in 1951 when their respective fathers sponsored them. After they married, they moved to Unionville in 1956 and opened Peter’s Restaurant. In 1969, they established Quan TV & Appliances and their property development businesses in the same location.

The Chinese Canadian community has faced numerous stereotypes, labels and racist policies, particularly the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. It stopped all Chinese immigration to Canada, separating families for decades before it was repealed in 1947. Chinese Canadians and their allies continue to advocate for equity, human rights and the correction of historical wrongs.

“We acknowledge all Chinese Canadians and what they have done to the benefit of our country,” says Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti. “History is an important teacher. This showcase is a window into one of Canada’s darkest chapters of history as experienced by Chinese immigrants. This exhibition is the first-of-its-kind and stands as a tribute to the contributions of our Chinese community here in Markham and across York Region. Together as partners, we can move toward a brighter and more inclusive future.”

The exhibition, which was developed in collaboration with more than 150 people, families and partners from the community, along with students from the University of Toronto’s Museum Studies program, coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act. It features artifacts, photographs and stories from York Region community members, as well as art from local students.

“We wanted to tell the story of resilience and perseverance of an important community in Markham and York Region,” says Markham Museum Curator Janet Reid. “The Chinese community is underrepresented in our exhibition schedule and our museum collections. This community-driven exhibit celebrates our Chinese residents and will also engage and educate the wider community through a multi-part virtual and touring exhibition program.”

An online version of the exhibition is also available through the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) website and features oral interview clips from local Chinese Canadian community members who share stories and traditions of the diverse Chinese Canadian community from Markham and York Region.

“As a school board, we want to ensure our students and families see themselves, their identities and cultures, reflected in their classrooms,” says Rebekah Mitchell, curator of YRDSB’s Museum and Archives. “We hope that educators, families and community members can use this exhibition to learn more about the rich Chinese culture and history here in York Region and to spark conversations about their own identities.”

This project received funding from the federal government’s Exhibition Circulation Fund component of the Museum Assistance Program and by the provincial government.

Photo: (L-R): Tribute to Early Chinese Immigrants founder Nancy Siew,  York Region District School Board Chair Ron Lynn and Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti in front of the Standing in the Doorway exhibition. Photo courtesy of the City of Markham.

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