The creative team

Honouring Chinese immigrants

Multi-media art project 'three years in the making'.

You could be easily forgiven for being unaware that Nelson ever had a Chinatown, but a new art exhibition aims to change that.

“Our Chinatown is completely invisible here. There’s no evidence,” said Nicola Harwood, one of the artists responsible for High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese, a new art exhibition and website at Oxygen Art Centre.

The project aims to commemorate the Chinese communities of Nelson and BC.

Nelson’s Chinatown, according to Harwood, was centred on Vernon Street and stretched down the slope towards Front Street.

“In the early days those were mobile labour communities, but as time went on there started to be shopkeepers, restaurants,” she said.

The community kept getting pushed down the hill towards Kootenay Lake, and eventually disappeared. It took the artists some time to figure out how best to honour their memory, and they proposed then discarded a number of ideas before settling.

“This project grew quite a bit. We wanted it to be both about contemporary and historical issues,” she said.

The collaborative team was created by a group of Nelson and Vancouver artists including Nicola Harwood, former director of Oxygen Art Centre, Fred Wah, former Poet Laureate of Canada, artist / performers Bessie Wapp and Thomas Loh and composer Jin Zhang.

Significant artistic contributions also came from Nelson performer, Hiromoto Ida, visual artist, Tomoyo Ihaya and electronic artist Phillip Djwa.

As well, many community members contributed oral histories and stories, including Cameron Mah and Lawrence Mar, both of Nelson.

At the exhibit, visitors are invited to participate in the gamble of immigration by filling in their own family immigration histories and playing the Pak Ah Pu lottery.

The materials created by the artists, including poems, images, music, video and interviews, are triggered by audience interaction with the lottery – taking each person to their own destination and leaving them with a fortune.

“For me what was interesting is it was an kind of immigration for all the artist too. We were trying to learn to speak a new language in the this whole other world, expressing ourselves through digital format,” she said.

The project is also an interactive website where all the materials of the exhibition can be experienced on-line. The exhibition runs until July 19. Oxygen is open from Wednesday to Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.

The interactive website is now live at


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