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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 09 | May 10, 2001

Priceless collection on display in Library

Artifacts provide snapshot of Chinese immigrant experience

The permanent home of the Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection and Reading Room has opened in Main Library.

Officially designated a national treasure by the Cultural Property Export Review Board, the Chung Collection comprises 25,000 items which reveal new perspectives on Canada's colourful history and the profound experiences of Chinese immigrants.

Valued in the millions of dollars, it is described as priceless by archivists and conservationists.

"I'm pleased that my collection remains intact and is presented so respectfully," says Dr. Wallace Chung, a vascular surgeon and retired member of UBC's Faculty of Medicine.

The exhibit centrepiece is a four-metre-long builder's model of the Empress of Asia, which Chung refurbished in exquisite detail in a 4,000-hour labour of love.

More than 1,000 items were selected for display in the carefully restored room. These include vibrant tourist and immigration posters, the diary of cabinet minister Hector Langevin in which he identifies Burrard Inlet as the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway and a photograph of the first Chinese person born in Canada.

Chung's lifelong obsession and global odyssey began with a young boy's fascination. A poster of the CPR luxury ocean liner, Empress of Asia, the pride of Canada's maritime fleet, hung in his father's Victoria tailor shop. The vessel had carried his mother from China.

From collecting memorabilia, Chung moved on to first editions of Cook's and Vancouver's voyages and the remnants of the life and times of nation builders, famous or forgotten, as well as visionaries and ordinary workers.

"This generous gift provides an exciting opportunity for the public to access many virtually unknown but important stories and unforgettable artifacts," says university librarian Catherine Quinlan.

For the past two years designers and other experts have pored over rare books and eclectic items relating to the CPR, the Asian experience in North America and West Coast history and exploration.

"My husband continues to add to the collection and our family is delighted that future generations will understand the struggles and joys of those who have come before," says Dr. Madeline Chung, a retired obstetrician.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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