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U of T Libraries receive $4-million donation to create the Richard Charles Lee Chinese Canadian Archive

Written by Romi Levine, U of T News

The University of Toronto will establish a Chinese-Canadian archive to collect, preserve and digitize cultural and personal records and stories from the Chinese diaspora in Canada, including oral histories, video and photographs.

The Richard Charles Lee Chinese Canadian Archive is made possible with a $4-million gift from an anonymous donor.

“The plan of building this archive to document Chinese and Chinese-Canadian lives over the last century provides this historical backdrop to the evolution of Toronto and Canada, and the fact that it's here in the University of Toronto is important,” says Joseph Wong, vice-provost and associate vice-president, international student experience.

“Toronto, having a long history of a Chinese diaspora, allows us to really take advantage of, and fully preserve, the rich cultural history and people-based history here in our backyard.”

The new archive seeks to safeguard that history for generations to come, says Larry Alford, U of T’s chief librarian.

“One of the things that happens is people build businesses, families come and they thrive and they contribute enormously, but when you get to the third and fourth generation, the documentation of that history, those contributions, begins to be lost,” he says.

The lives and stories of Chinese-Canadians will also be captured in their own words through oral histories – a project that will expand on the work that’s already being done by Lisa Mar, associate professor of history and Richard Charles Lee Chair in Chinese Canadian Studies at University College, and her classes.

“Oral histories are amazingly important in preserving history and culture, as a way to understand what happened, how it happened, how people contributed and their own personal recollections,” says Alford.

The archive will also build upon existing Chinese-Canadian collections at U of T, he says.

“We have extraordinary collections already, documenting Chinese history and culture,” he says. “We have the largest Chinese language collection in Canada, one of the largest in North America, at the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, and what we believe is the largest collection documenting Hong Kong outside of Hong Kong itself in the Richard Charles Lee Canada-Hong Kong Library.”

Read more about the new archive at U of T News.