Small Town Life

The earliest Chinese migrants across the Pacific landed at major port cities such as San Francisco, Victoria, and Vancouver, but after arrival they also kept moving to a vast number of rural areas and small towns across North America. Often, they rode the same railroads that they had helped build, passing European migrants and settlers going the other way. They became labourers in the mining, logging, fishing, farming, and manufacturing industries, but many also set up their own businesses--stores, restaurants, small cafés, laundries. Although they were often a small minority of a town's population, almost every small town across the Prairies had small Chinese-owned businesses that became an integral part of Canadian social life. Many Chinese store and café owners married into local First Nation's families, revealing often close relations with the diversity of the communities within which they lived. Targets in common of the widespread politics of white supremacy growing within Canada in the late 19th and early 20th century, Chinese Canadians often felt a empathy for First Nations peoples that sprang from shared experiences of discrimination and exclusion. Small town life, however, also allowed individual Chinese Canadians to overcome prejudice and become accepted and even revered as valuable members of local communities. Establishing businesses in rural towns over long years and decades, Chinese Canadians became part of the fabric of society.

Chinese community associations, which brought together entire Chinese communities, were also forged in small towns as a response to discrimination and exclusion, to advocate republican government in China (Chinese National League), or to rally support for war efforts. Since their inception, these associations have played a fundamental role in creating strong ties amongst Chinese Canadians, as well as supporting and promoting the use of Chinese languages, arts, and cultural practices.

C.D. Hoy’s Store: Quesnel, BC

Chow Dong Hoy (1883-1973), most often referred to as C.D. Hoy, immigrated to Vancouver, B.C. at the age of 17 from Guangdong China to provide a better life for his family. He worked 17 different jobs throughout his life in Canada. In 1913, Hoy opened the Hoy and Co. Ltd. Store in downtown Quesnel, which experienced the height of its retails success prior to arrival of major supermarkets.

C.D. Hoy became renown in the city as a generous merchant to a diverse group of customers. His grandson Warren Lore, one of his many relatives who worked at the store, has numerous memories of customers going to the store bookkeeper to discuss their store credit. Lore recalls Hoy’s generosity to his grandchildren: “One of the things he did do on his 80th he gave all his grandchildren a $1000, which in those days, is a lot of money.”

Long after his retirement, Hoy’s loyal customers still paid visits to him in his office. Even today, customers of Hoy enjoy going to the dentistry that is now located where the store used to be as they recall fond memories of going to the Hoy store.

His strong rapport with locals and the trust they shared with one another is also demonstrated by the array of photographs he took for people to share with their families.

C.D. Hoy’s Photography

One of the 17 jobs that transformed C.D. Hoy’s life in Canada was photography. He began taking photos of Chinese workers in Quesnel for them to send back to their families in China. Soon he became reputable with a large array of local members of the Carrier and Chilcotin First Nations, as well as Caucasian migrant workers.

Today C.D. Hoy’s photographic record of a diversity of peoples in Quesnel contributes a vital representation of the diversity of people living in small-town British Columbia. At the time these photographs were taken, however, Hoy’s photographs were simply for his customers, and the friends and families whom they would share their photographs with.

“The frank, open look on the people’s faces in Hoy’s portraits, and the lack of romanticism in the setting and light effects, reveal the difference between being photographed for someone else’s story and being photographed for your own. None of Hoy’s Native people are positioned as degraded Indian, Noble Savages, or good Christian converts. They are friends, families, lovers, and individuals” (Faith Moosang, First Son: Portraits of C.D. Hoy, 147).