B.C. Author, researcher, and historian Lily Chow was invested into the Order of Canada in December 2021 “for preserving and promoting the history of early Chinese immigrants to Canada and their contributions to the country’s social and economic development.” Her investment marks a storied career of history, research, language, and education. Chow was previously awarded the Queen’s 50th Golden Jubilee medal in 2002, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 in recognition of her community service, and her preservation of Chinese-Canadian heritage. Chow’s books are published by Caitlin Press.
Chow’s research has revived the almost-lost history of British Columbia built on the backs of Chinese labourers, miners, farmers, and entrepreneurs. Sojourners in the North (1996) explores North-Central B.C., telling readers of the early days of self-titled Hua qiao, sojourners, in building Chinese settlements around Barkerville, Quesnel, and Prince George for the Cariboo Gold Rush beginning in 1858. Sojourners in the North received the Jean Clarke Memorial Local History Award.
Chasing Their Dreams (2000) recreates the hardships early Chinese settlers faced in Northwestern B.C.: harsh land and climate, little or no financial resources, deep-set prejudice and sometimes racial violence. The Cassiar Gold Rush of the 1870s brought thousands of miners to the area near Dease Lake in search of riches. Through regional archives, translating accounts kept by Chinese settlers, and in collaboration with local First Nations, Chow documents experiences of hardship and survival by a persecuted community.
In Blossoms in the Gold Mountains (2018) Chow brings her research to nineteenth century Okanagan and Fraser Valley, where many Chinese had settled after seeking work elsewhere in the province. Unable to afford the fare home they settled forming communities, or Chinatowns, and worked for farmers, orchardists, and ranchers. As they themselves became established they soon supported family members in the journey to Canada to join them. Eventually immigration restrictions were enacted to deter Chinese nationals, charging a head tax of as much as $500 per person and only eventually being repealed in 1947.
Hard is the Journey (2022), Chow’s forthcoming book shares the history of Chinese Canadians in the Kootenay. Piecing together interviews with Kootenay residents and descendants of Chinese immigrants, government records and documents, and early newspaper articles, Chow exposes parts of B.C.’s history while shedding light on the struggles but also resilience and untold accomplishments of the Chinese immigrants who risked everything and often lost their lives in building the Canada we know today. Hard is the Journey will be released Winter, 2022.