Item AAAB4134 - James Chan interview

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James Chan interview

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  • sound recording

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  • Source of title proper: Supplied title based on item contents.

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  • 1980-07 & 08 [date recorded] (Creation)

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CALL NUMBER: T3721:0001 SUPPLIED TITLE OF TAPE(S): James Chan : Chinese at work in B.C. : restaurants PERIOD COVERED: 1894-1925 RECORDED: Victoria (B.C.), 1980-07-30 SUMMARY: TRACK 1: Describes background: born 1894 in China; father came to Canada and worked in laundries; he came to Canada 1910-11 on the Empress of Japan; went to public and Chinese school when first arrived in Victoria; talks of marriage proposals by Chinese Canadian-born women in Victoria; talks of first job as a houseboy in a boarding house. Tells of the 21 day journey of the Empress ship to Canada: living conditions; ship companions; description of boat. Talks of Immigration Building in Victoria. Talks of first impressions of Victoria and the arrangement made by his father to receive him. Description of the Chinese quarters around Victoria and the location of various shops and restaurants, ca. 1910. TRACK 2: Talks of the various personalities in Chinatown around 1910. Talks of going to school after work to learn English. Refers to the cutting of his pigtail before the Chinese revolution, 1911, in China and giving the hair to his mother. Refers to the "Rock Bay incident" where Chinese students were segregated from white students. Description of his living quarters, i.e. living in the "fong" with 20 people on the floor and toilet. Using the baths at the barber shop.

CALL NUMBER: T3721:0002 SUPPLIED TITLE OF TAPE(S): James Chan : Chinese at work in B.C. : restaurants PERIOD COVERED: 1915-1970 RECORDED: Victoria (B.C.), 1980-07-30 SUMMARY: Discusses people in the "fong" mostly Lee's, and thus related to his mother. Discusses the factionalism of some Chinese societies, i.e. Chinese Freemasons and the Dartcoon Club, Chan Association and the Toy San Association. Different businesses in Victoria were controlled by certain last names, i.e.. Laundries by Wong's and Mar's; lumbering by Hoi Ping District Chinese. Talks of the big fire and explosion of gas tanks in Victoria. Only four Chinese, between 1910-20, had cars: Lee Mong Kew, Tim Kee, Lim Bang & (?). Talks of labour contract offices in town and personal referral systems for jobs. Discusses the various jobs he had as a cook in restaurants. Anecdote of rivalry between him and the cook "Quan" when he worked in a private residence. Talks of competition and pettiness of some personalities in the restaurant business, and gives a series of examples. Compares wages of restaurant cooks and other occupations Chinese were in. Unionism and Chinese in restaurants: Chinese were closed from the union in the early days. First paid vacation by a restaurant was 1935. Talks of evolution of the mechanization and improvement of equipment in the restaurants. Talks of improvements made after WW II in equipment and working conditions. Working at Work Point Barracks as a cook for the armed forces in the 1960s.

CALL NUMBER: T3721:0003 SUPPLIED TITLE OF TAPE(S): James Chan : Chinese at work in B.C. : restaurants PERIOD COVERED: 1911-1940 RECORDED: Victoria (B.C.), 1980-07-30 SUMMARY: TRACK 1: Helped train relations and other Chans in the restaurant business. Opened and owned a restaurant, but went broke during Depression. Compares the differences between white owned and Chinese owned restaurants. Worked 7 days a week, and 12 hours a day. Chinese New Year: cooks who worked in private residences demanded 4-5 days off from their employers. Talks of Christianity and his views on religion. Refers to poll tax and road tax collected at work. Talks of the difficulty of educated Chinese who could not get work as professionals before 1949 in Canada. Description of William Head Quarantine Station when the Chinese labour force from China were quarantined en route to France. Worked on the CPR Princess line as cook in 1919. Having clothes tailor-made by Chinese tailors in Victoria. Description of the events/celebrations in Victoria after the August 1911 Revolution in China, and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. Vivid description of Dr. Sun Yet Sun during his tour of Victoria, refers to his speech at the Chinese Theatre and Sun's faux pas about "wanting to be king", after the revolution of the Manchus. TRACK 2: Refers to the visit of Kang Yu Wei [Kang Youwei] and his talk at the Empire Reform Association. Speaks of the incident of the murder of a man of Manchu descent after the 1911 Revolution in Victoria Chinatown.

CALL NUMBER: T3721:0004 SUPPLIED TITLE OF TAPE(S): James Chan : Chinese at work in B.C. : restaurants PERIOD COVERED: 1920-1952 RECORDED: Victoria (B.C.), 1980-08-13 SUMMARY: Mr. Chan discusses: attending Sunday School at Chinese Mission; Chinese Theatre in Victoria (description of the building and the travelling opera company); description of Chinese women in Victoria and especially references to their dress. Incident of the "Variety" theatre house which would not allow Chinese patrons. Chinese using Chinese dry goods shops as private "banks". Talks of the restaurants; which went broke and employees taking a cut in pay during the Depression. The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association organized a "soup kitchen" for the Chinese during the Depression. Many Chinese returned to China during the Depression to visit and "wait it out". Apply for family to immigrate to Canada in 1950. Describes difficulty in applying for immigration status because he stayed in China for more than one year during his last visit. Speaks of his friend who learned to fly planes in order to return to China to help the KMT to fight against the Communists. Speaks of the conscription of Chinese-Canadians during WW II. Fundraiser in Victoria by KMT for the internal war in China. Refers to the "swindling and graft" by some members of the Chan Family Association. Information about his family: children and 2 wives. Talks of the after-hours restaurants he ate at after his shift cooking for others.

CALL NUMBER: T3721:0005 SUPPLIED TITLE OF TAPE(S): James Chan : Chinese at work in B.C. : restaurants PERIOD COVERED: 1920-1980 RECORDED: Victoria (B.C.), 1980-08-13 SUMMARY: TRACK 1: Discusses: gambling in Victoria Chinatown; obtaining work permits at Manpower and Immigration for friends; the difficulty in getting dishwashers in restaurants during WW II. Chinese immigrants borrowing and paying high interest for $500 head tax. Chinese cemetery and the sending of bones back to China. Illegal entry of the Chinese into Canada. Comparison of the Chinese community in Victoria at present and in the past. Settling disputes of Chinese within the Chinese community by family and clan associations. Anecdote of an open fist fight between Kuomingtang Association and the Chinese Freemasons in Victoria. Story of the murder in daylight of a Chinese by a Chinese in Chinatown. TRACK 2: Chinese New Year's celebrations in Victoria's Chinatown. Ching Ming--describes the spring Chinese ceremony of commemorating the dead. His wish for the opportunity for more education. Description of various shops in Chinatown area. Talks of Tim Kee and Lim Bang, two prominent Chinese residents in Victoria. Description of Chinese laundries in Victoria. Chinese working in the fish canneries. Chinese women not encouraged to go to school in Victoria. The disintegration of Chinatown at present. Predicts the future of the New Horizon's Club in the Toy San Association building. (End of interview).

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Provincial Archives of British Columbia. [staff members], [1974-1987]


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Interview conducted in Chinese and some English.

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A digital copy is available.
Reference cassette copy available in container 000443-223.
Digitized as part of the Chinese Historical Wrongs Legacy Initiative.

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No access restrictions apply.

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  • Copying Restriction: None.
  • Use Restriction: As determined by the BC Archives.
  • Copyright Status: Copyright British Columbia Archives.

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Accession number(s): T3721

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speaker: James Chan, interviewer: Theresa Low

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