Burnaby Village Museum Neighbourhood Speaker Series – The Fecundity of Food and Family: A Natural Niche for Chinese Canadians in Burnaby


What is virtual museum programming? How can the significance of cultural foods be conveyed through a screen? Join us virtually on October 20th, to hear from UBC interns about their work with the Burnaby Village Museum on research and interpretive projects showcasing Burnaby’s Chinese Canadian history. 

This summer, four UBC students and alumni interned with the Burnaby Village Museum (BVM) on projects highlighting Chinese Canadian history in Burnaby. This marks the third year of a joint partnership between the Burnaby Village Museum, the UBC Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies (INSTRCC), the UBC Asian Canadian & Asian Migration Studies program (ACAM), the UBC Centre for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL), the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems, UBC Go Global, and UBC St. John’s College (SJC)

In previous years, BVM student interns spearheaded the creation of historical interpretive experiences at the museum, including a “Story Garden” and “Story Harvest Station” that educated museum visitors on Chinese Canadian history at their Chinese market garden site. Last year’s team designed and led interactive tours of the BVM. Additions included a 3-panel art piece of early Chinese Canadian industries, a visual compilation of migration stories involving a comic strip and family friendly activities. 

Due to the restrictions of COVID-19, this year’s interns were tasked with creating virtual experiences that reimagined BVM’s historical Chinese Canadian programming in remote online spaces. Working under the co-supervision of UBC and BVM staff, these internships provided invaluable opportunities for students to apply what they learned in the classroom and on international travels to the Burnaby Village Museum’s research, programming, and exhibits. 

Debbie Liang and Joty Gill—UBC alumni and graduates of Dr. Henry Yu’s 2019 summer ACAM 390A Global Seminar to Asia—returned to work with the BVM this summer on the production of two short films showcasing the history of Chinese Canadian Chop Suey restaurants and piggeries in Burnaby.   

“I loved incorporating some of my creative ideas in making the BVM videos. I learned a lot about copyright and figured out ways to add visuals to compliment the audio,” says Liang. She hopes the videos will provide a glimpse into a lesser told aspect of early Chinese Canadian life, as popular historical depictions often confine Chinese immigrant stories to the railroad worker narrative. 

Two other interns, Rose Wu and Wei Yan Yeong, are current students in UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems. This summer, they were tasked with the reinterpretation of the BVM’s market garden, highlighting its association with early Chinese Canadian market farming in the region. The resulting project was a three-episode podcast series, aptly named Back to the Roots, which delves into the topics of family-operated farming businesses, Chinese contributions to early local and alternative food systems, and Traditional Chinese Medicine and herbalism. For both, it was their first encounters with the art of podcasting. 

Reflecting on her experiences this summer, Wu had this to say: “It was an interesting challenge to story-tell without the help of any visual elements, and I learned a lot about sound production and narrative pacing. Overall, I am grateful for the opportunity to help share stories that have often been disregarded in our history books, and also help to situate Chinese Canadian contributions within the context of our local food system and give them the recognition they deserve.” 

The two teams will be giving a virtual talk about their research and processes on Tuesday, October 20th, 7-8PM PT at the Burnaby Village Museum’s Neighbourhood Speaker Series, titled: The Fecundity of Food and Family: A Natural Niche for Chinese Canadians in Burnaby. 

In the following week, Denise Fong, UBC PhD candidate and Planning Assistant for the City of Burnaby, will present her latest research on the history of Chinese Canadian market gardens and greengrocers in Burnaby on Tuesday, October 27th, 7-8PM PT. The talk, entitled Eating your way through Burnaby: A look at Chinese Canadian history through food, explores the key role that Chinese Canadians played in supplying food to Burnaby’s community through their participation in the local food industry.


To participate, join us via Facebook Live on the Burnaby Village Museum Facebook page or follow the Zoom link on the Burnaby Village Museum’s event page. You can also register in advance through the Burnaby Public Library at bpl.bc.ca/events or call 604-436-5400.  


Film stills by Debbie Liang