Standing in the Doorway: Lived Histories & Experiences of the Chinese Community

Published September 29, 2023

Markham, Ontario, September 27, 2023 – Shaoren Gou, International Arts News–In celebration of cultural diversity and in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, the Markham Museum in Ontario, Canada, unveiled the thought-provoking exhibition 'Standing in the Doorway: Lived Histories & Experiences of the Chinese Community.' Developed in collaboration with community members, partners, and students from the University of Toronto's Museum Studies program, this exhibition opened its doors to the public on September 28, 2023.

From September 28, 2023, to February 25, 2024, the exhibition will be on display at the Markham Museum, inviting visitors to delve into the vibrant narrative of Chinese Canadians in Canada. Additionally, the exhibition will transcend physical boundaries, as it is also available online, ensuring that these important stories reach a global audience.

The opening ceremony for this extraordinary exhibition was a grand affair, held at the Markham Museum from 5:30 PM to 7 PM on September 27, 2023, with a captivating dragon dance and traditional Chinese opera performances.

The dragon that graced the opening ceremony of the exhibition "Standing in the Doorway: Lived Histories & Experiences of the Chinese Community" was a magnificent spectacle of color and artistry. It was a vibrant and majestic creature, brought to life with a palette of rich and symbolic colors.

The dragon's body was adorned in shades of red and gold, which are traditionally associated with luck, prosperity, and happiness in Chinese culture. These bold colors symbolized the community's resilience and the celebration of their rich history.

As the dragon danced and weaved through the air, its scales shimmered in a brilliant mix of red, gold, and green, creating a dazzling display of color that captivated the audience. The green color represented growth and harmony, signifying the continuous evolution of the Chinese Canadian community in Markham and York Region.

Amidst the vibrant colors, the dragon's eyes shone brightly with a fierce intensity, conveying a sense of strength and determination. This symbolism paid homage to the unwavering spirit of the Chinese community in the face of adversity.

Incorporating a variety of colors, the dragon's performance was a visual feast, symbolizing not only the Chinese community's history but also their hope for a colorful and harmonious future in Canada.

The dragon's presence at the opening ceremony added a vivid and dynamic dimension to the event, embodying the spirit of unity, resilience, and cultural pride that defined the exhibition and its celebration of Chinese Canadian heritage.

As the festivities unfolded, it was clear that this exhibition was not just a display of artifacts and photographs but a profound celebration of the rich Chinese culture and history within York Region.

VIPs adding vibrancy to the dragon's symbolism

Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham, signs and seals calligraphy works

VIPs participating in the cake-cutting ceremony

Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham, Honorary patron of the Tribute to Early Chinese Immigrants Canada Foundation, spoke at the opening ceremony, highlighting the significance of this exhibition. Here is an excerpt from his speech:

"Anniversary is too kind a word to describe something born from ignorance. This year marks a century since the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act – a lingering scar on this country’s history. It is a dark chapter that starkly reminds us that racism and otherness should never be bricks used in building the road to progress."

Rebekah Mitchell, curator of the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) Museum and Archives, emphasized the importance of representing diverse identities and cultures in educational settings: "As a school board, we want to ensure our students and families see themselves, their identities and cultures reflected in their classrooms."

"Standing in the Doorway" tells the story of resilience and perseverance of the Chinese community in Markham and York Region. Markham Museum Curator Janet Reid noted, "This community-driven exhibit will celebrate our Chinese residents and also engage and educate the wider community through a multi-part virtual and touring exhibition program."

Nancy Siew, Citizenship Judge: 2014-2017

The title, 'Standing in the Doorway,' was inspired by a 2013 talk at the Richmond Public Library by Fred Wah, a Chinese Canadian poet and former Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Wah's work explores the complexities of living between two cultures – Chinese and Canadian. The exhibition acknowledges the terminology debate, with some preferring 'Chinese Canadian' without the hyphen, while others favor 'Canadians of Chinese descent.' For this exhibit, the latter terminology was chosen to align with recent writings about Chinese Canadian history and experience.

The heart of the exhibition lies in its collection of artifacts, photographs, and personal stories contributed by York Region community members. One significant focus is the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned virtually all Chinese immigrants from entering Canada for 24 years. This discriminatory act, unique in its racial targeting, left an indelible mark on the Chinese community in Canada.

The exhibition highlights the diverse backgrounds and experiences of Chinese Canadians. While they share Chinese heritage, their origins, languages, and reasons for leaving China are varied. Some sought better job opportunities, others fled war-torn regions, and some left to escape environmental hazards. The Chinese community is not monolithic, comprising various subgroups and ethnic minorities with their own unique traditions, practices, foods, and languages.

Visual fine artist Adam Alfsen (on the right), visual fine artist Michael Janzen, Chairman of IFAA (International Federation of Arts & Artists), and Danielle Marie Nowak, Editor of International Arts News, at the exhibition

The historical narrative of Chinese Canadians in Canada is intertwined with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Chinese laborers played a pivotal role in building the railway, enduring grueling conditions and discrimination. After its completion, they transitioned to other occupations, including laundries and restaurants. However, they faced ongoing discrimination, exemplified by the Chinese Exclusion Act and head taxes that separated families and inhibited immigration.

The Second World War marked a turning point for Chinese Canadians. Despite facing discrimination and exclusion, many actively supported Canada's war effort. Over 600 Chinese Canadians served in the military, both in Canada and abroad. Their contributions and sacrifices paved the way for the eventual repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The exhibition also explores unique immigration pathways to York Region, including the stories of Chinese Newfoundlanders. Before Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, the colony imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants, adding another layer of complexity to their experiences.

As the exhibition showcases, Chinese Canadians have made significant contributions to the cultural fabric of York Region. Through this comprehensive exploration of their history and experiences, "Standing in the Doorway" aims to foster a deeper understanding of Chinese Canadian identity and its connection to the broader community.

The in-person exhibition will run at the Markham Museum, starting on September 28, 2023, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in this rich tapestry of history and culture. Additionally, a virtual exhibit is accessible online, ensuring that this important narrative reaches a wider audience.

This exhibit serves as a reminder that while the Chinese Exclusion Act left a painful legacy, the resilience and contributions of the Chinese Canadian community have shaped York Region and Canada into the diverse and inclusive society it is today.

For more information about the exhibition, you can visit the virtual exhibit at

Release ID: 755196

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