Gazebo proposed for Nelson’s Chinese memorial site

The project would be self-funded but requested maintenance support from the city's public works department.

Claus Schunke (left) and Cameron Mah at the Chinese community memorial stone and garden on Vernon St. where they hope to build a Chinese style gazebo.

Claus Schunke (left) and Cameron Mah at the Chinese community memorial stone and garden on Vernon St. where they hope to build a Chinese style gazebo.

Members of the Chinese Canadian community want to build a gazebo over the memorial stone and garden at the corner of Hall and Vernon. The project would be mostly privately funded.

Cameron Mah and Claus Schunke described the project to city council at its meeting on Monday.

“The purpose of the gazebo,” Schunke told the Star, “is to give the rock a symbolic shelter, and this represents the dragon which is important in Chinese mythology. It represents all things strong, and integrity, and right from wrong. The dragon very often is shown carrying a pearl in its mouth and when we talk about pearls of wisdom that comes from the Chinese. The gazebo represents the head of the dragon and the rock is the pearl of wisdom in its mouth.”

At left, Chinese dragon, photo by Jeff Fusco.

Cameron Mah, a member of Nelson’s Chinese community told the Star, “It is a symbol of peace, all over China and other Asian countries. People can rest there, it is a peaceful place. The older (Chinese) people have passed on and the younger people have moved, and so this is important so people will remember the Chinese in Nelson.”

The gazebo would be 14 feet tall at the centre, four-and-a-half feet wide at the base, and eight feet across the roof line. It would consist of four red wooden posts with a roof; the rest of the structure would be open.

“The tiles on the roof will be dragon scales,” said Schunke, “and eventually I see a Chinese theme winding to the corner and down the 300 block of Hall down into Chinatown and all that will be the body of the dragon, but right now we are dealing with the head. Those railings (at the top of the Hall St. stairs) were done in red to connect with the gazebo because the red is the same as in the posts.”

The organizers requested the following from the city:

Four square concrete bases for the gazebo’s posts.

Transport of the roof from the residence of its builder.

A light for the rock inside the gazebo.

The planting of four additional azaleas behind the gazebo.

Replacement of the magnolia planted last year which did not bloom, with a standard magnolia.

Continuing overall maintenance of the gazebo’s island in the bulb-out.

Removal of the waste-receptacles now directly behind the rock environment to a more appropriate location.

Council made no decision on the request.  Mah and Schunke made the presentation at a committee of the whole meeting, at which council does not make decisions but refers requests to management staff for recommendations to a future regular meeting.

In 2011 Schunke organized the creation and installation of the stone plaque at the top of the hill at Hall and Vernon containing an inscription acknowledging the significance of Chinese culture in Nelson’s history. Last summer, when the city began re-building Hall St., he worked with them to have the stone moved up onto the pedestrian bulb-out on Vernon, along with two trees that often appear in Chinese gardens, a magnolia and a ginkgo.

In addition to an English language tribute to the Chinese community written on the stone, a poem in Chinese reads: Hard is the journey/ Hard is the journey/So many turns/ Now where am I?

Before moving to Nelson in 2008, Schunke lived and worked in China for 15 years and speaks Mandarin.

“When Claus came along, he was a total stranger but it seemed like he was talking my language,” Mah said. “He understands Chinese culture and I trust him. He does a lot of work. I am going to help him along and he can help me along.”

In February, the provincial government recognized Nelson’s former Chinatown as a significant historic site and added it to the BC Register of Historic Places. A century ago the Nelson area had a Chinese population of about1000, in a general population of about 4000. Chinese workers helped build the railway, their market gardens fed the city, and they worked as hired help in many Nelson homes. Chinatown was located in the area between Vernon, Ward, Front, and Cedar Streets.