We are delighted to announce the donation of the Yucho Chow Community Archive collection to the Archives! The hybrid analogue-digital collection includes 510 photographs contributed by diverse communities, 75 family photographs contributed by Yucho Chow’s descendants, news clippings, studio graphic design work and ephemera, media stories, and project records.
The collection grew out of the work of curator Catherine Clement, who began researching photographer Yucho Chow (周耀初) in 2011. Born in Hoy Ping, Kwong Tung (Kaiping, Guangdong), China in 1876, Yucho Chow arrived in Vancouver in 1902, paying the discriminatory Head Tax then imposed on Chinese immigrants to Canada as a mechanism for discouraging immigration. Chow established his photography studio at 68 West Hastings Street in 1907, photographing families, individuals, and organizations, many of whom were recent immigrants to Canada. Chow welcomed clients from any background, and as such, his work documents diverse communities that have traditionally been excluded from dominant narratives of Vancouver’s history.
Yucho Chow Studio operated from a number of Chinatown addresses over the years, including 23 West Pender Street from 1914 to 1929 and 518 Main Street from 1930 to 1950, when business was booming.
Yucho Chow’s sons Peter and Philip took over the studio following their father’s death in 1949, operating out of 512 Main Street from 1951 to 1986. As the studio’s original negatives were destroyed when the business wound down in 1986, the remaining evidence of Yucho Chow’s work is found in the private collections of the families and organizations whose lives the studio documented. Catherine Clement spent years connecting with communities to unearth photographs taken by Yucho Chow Studio and bring them together for the exhibition “Chinatown Through a Wide Lens: The Hidden Photographs of Yucho Chow.” The exhibition ran from May 4-30, 2019, at the Chinese Cultural Centre. A small subset of the contributed photographs is available online on the project website.
2020 saw the publication of the book Chinatown Through a Wide Lens: The Hidden Photographs of Yucho Chow, published by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia, which features a large selection of photographs with their accompanying stories. We are pleased to say that the book won the 2020 City of Vancouver Book Award.
The majority of photographs in the donation are scans only; the original prints remain with the contributing families and organizations. Clement digitized the photographs loaned to her for the project, and it is these digitized images that have been donated to the Archives for long term preservation and public access. Included in each item-level photograph description is Clement’s curatorial description, which often includes rich background information about the people depicted in the photograph.
Currently, two of three series are available via our online database: Community Photographs and Yucho Chow Studio and Family records. Photographs in these series are freely available for research, private study and educational purposes; however, use for publication, exhibition, or commercial purposes requires permission from the family or organization that contributed the photograph. This restriction acknowledges the trust required for families to add their photographs to the community archive, and you will see a note describing this restriction in each item-level photograph description.
The third series, Project files, contains photo documentation of the 2019 exhibition and its many visitors, digital and physical versions of most of the media stories related to the exhibition, and the physical guest book. These born-digital records will be made available online in the coming months.
The donation of the Yucho Chow Community Archive collection is a significant contribution to filling in gaps in the Archives’ holdings and supporting a richer, more diverse, and more accurate reflection of Vancouver’s history and people. We thank Catherine Clement, her team, and the families who brought Yucho Chow Studio to light once again. Happy exploring!