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People & Culture

Heroes of the Dark Years

Preserving and celebrating the history of Chinese Canadians in Canada’s Armed Forces

  • Published Nov 07, 2016
  • Updated May 05, 2022
  • 372 words
  • 2 minutes
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As Chinese workers arrived in Canada in the mid-19th century to take jobs in the mines and on the railway, they were in short order treated as second- and even third-class citizens. Denied the vote, subjected to a head tax and then legislation that barred new immigrants from entering Canada, they faced daunting racial intolerance in their daily lives as well as diminished employment and education opportunities. Indeed, in Vancouver’s Chinatown, according to Chinese Canadian writer Wayson Choy, July 1, the day that celebrates Canada’s birth, was known as “the Day of Shame.” In the face of these injustices, it’s tough to understand why men and women volunteered to put their lives at risk for Canada during two world wars. Yet that’s exactly what numbers of patriotic Chinese did. 

Today, the Chinese Canadian Military Museum is dedicated to preserving—and celebrating—the history of Chinese Canadians in Canada’s Armed Forces. Founded in 1998 and located in the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives in downtown Vancouver, the museum provides a history of Chinese Canadians that is not widely available—or available at all—in school curricula across the country. By researching, collecting, recording and preserving stories, artifacts and memorabilia about this vital piece of Chinese Canadian history, the dedicated non-profit seeks to educate a new generation of Canadians about the vital role the Chinese have played in our history.

From October 5 through March 31, 2017, a new exhibit commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Second World War’s Battle of Hong Kong and the courageous Chinese Canadians who participated in the battle, the occupation and the liberation of the former British colony. Hong Kong: Heroes of the Dark Years casts light on the unsung heroes who risked everything to drive out the Japanese.

The museum’s website is also a remarkable source of past exhibitions, among them Force 136, which explores a specially trained group of 136 Chinese Canadians who were dropped behind Japanese lines to undertake espionage and Brothers in Arms, a poignant tribute to families with two and more children who signed up to the war effort.

It’s a remarkable and inspiring project about a subject all Canadians should know more about. To learn more, visit ccmms.ca

Alan Bing (courtesy Chinese Canadian Military Museum)
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Bing Foon Wong (courtesy Chinese Canadian Military Museum)
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Henry Fung (courtesy Chinese Canadian Military Museum)
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Leonard Lee (courtesy Chinese Canadian Military Museum)
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