Pavilion honours Chinese history
Lise Billingsley, Comox Valley Echo
Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010
A living part of Cumberland history has achieved his longtime goal of commemorating the village’s Chinese heritage.
John Leung, 77, was born and raised in Cumberland’s Chinatown; today he is the only Cumberland resident to claim that honour. With the help of two of his sisters, Leung has succeeded in building a picnic pavilion on the old Chinatown land.
“We needed something in Chinatown for our legacy and this pavilion is the answer,” said Leung. “I just love it.”
For seven years Leung and his sisters May Gee and Joyce Lowe have been planning and fundraising. Two weeks ago, construction began on their pavilion.
When complete, the 400-sq. foot open structure will house three picnic tables and the roof will be decorated with red Chinese characters that say ‘wishing you peace and safety in all four seasons’. In China, red represents good luck and prosperity.
Made of local wood by local builders, the structure will cost $17,000 to complete, well under the original quote of $35,000. David Durrant, the manager of community services for the Village of Cumberland, said the lower cost is a result of good planning.
Durrant was instrumental in helping Leung, Gee and Lowe find a contractor who met Cumberland’s requirement for permits, warranties and WorksafeBC approval.
“I would like to thank Dave for all his help,” said Gee. “I don’t know how we would have done it without him.”
Cumberland provided some funding, but Leung, Gee and Lowe worked for years to raise the bulk of the money for the pavilion. Gee, who was a graphic artist for 20 years, designed a T-shirt for the cause. The design combines a dragon, “for the strong spirit of the Chinese people,” said Gee, a coal bucket to represent the Cumberland Chinese settlement and a character that means luck and prosperity.
Sales of the shirt, which has sold over 400 copies, have exceeded expectations.
“All the people supported us, and that was so nice,” said Gee.
Leung, Gee, Lowe and their six brothers and sisters were born and raised in Cumberland’s Chinatown. Built in 1888 and active until 1968, it was once North America’s second largest Chinese settlement, housing about 2,500 people.
The Dunsmuir family brought the Chinese workers to Cumberland, known at the time as Union, to work in their coal mines and to build the Wellington Colliery Railway, used to transport the coal to Union Bay’s seaport.
Leung has spent his whole life in Cumberland, the only known Chinatown dweller to still live in the village.
He said he is happy to see the settlement finally commemorated by the pavilion.
“For a long time, hope wasn’t very high,” said Leung. “I just said, ‘I want to see it up before I die.'”
Leung’s sister, Gee, said she is thrilled that people will soon have a place to sit and enjoy the land where Chinatown once stood.
“It’s like a dream come true. I can’t believe it. We’ve been trying to get this for so long I’ve lost track,” Gee said.
The pavilion is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.