Vancouver Heritage Foundation Weekly: Places That Matter ~ Nellie Yip Quong House

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Vancouver Heritage Foundation is a registered charity supporting the conservation of heritage buildings and structures in recognition of their contribution to the city’s economy, sustainability and culture.
Nellie Yip Quong and Eleanor Yip (in chair), with foster children. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Eleanor (Yip) Lum collection.

Our city’s early history is full of  hardships, busts, booms, fiery destruction and rapid reconstruction. It is also a place where people from all over the world came to build a new life. In celebration of Asian Heritage Month, Vancouver Heritage Foundation‘s Places That Matter plaque project is honouring a love story and an advocate, in a non-Chinese woman who really mattered to the Vancouver Chinatown community. Some say very few people in the community mattered more than Mrs. Nellie Yip Quong (nee Towers)…

“Nellie Towers of St. John, NB met Charlie Yip Quong while teaching in New York. Married in 1900, the couple moved into the Yip Sang family compound in Chinatown in 1904. A feminist and social activist, “Granny” spoke five dialects and became a bold and outspoken advocate for her adopted community. In 1917, Charlie and Nellie moved to 783 East Pender Street and it was here that Nellie served as a trusted and well respected midwife to some 500 Chinese Canadian women.”

At the beginning stages of contacting Nellie Yip’s family and the current owners of the house, we knew we had an amazing story on our hands and wanted to be sure we could share it with a wider audience. Dr. Henry Yu, of UBC’s Chinese Canadian Stories project, was the person to contact. With amazing support from CCS and the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC, we were able to get the UBC student film crew to make a short about the house, the history, and the family! Check out the video here. It’s awesome! There’s also a research diary blog post by Janet Tse.

All this leads us to the plaque presentation taking place this Saturday May 25 at 2pm at the former house of Charlie and Nellie Yip. Eleanor  (daughter) and Starlet (granddaughter) Lum will be in attendance, as well as Aunt #18 Molly, the only living offspring of Yip Sang’s 23 children. Aunt Molly was delivered by Nellie Yip.  Other special guests,  Jim Wong-Chu, Larry Wong, and James Johnstone will be in attendance and our Places That Matter bike tour group will stop by with historian  John Atkin at the helm. Below is the invitation the presentation, as well as a lovely note we received. Please RSVP to  jessica@vancouverheritagefoundation.org  if you would like to join us!

Mrs. Eleanor (Yip) Lum in front of the house on East Pender. Courtesy of Mrs. Eleanor (Yip) Lum Collection

We received this lovely note from author of The Jade Peony, Wayson Choy:

I’m delighted to receive from my friend Seline your announcement that the colourful and colour-blind Ms Nellie Yip will be honoured by the community.  She was a much respected and beloved person in Old Chinatown, a blunt and outspoken woman of great influence during my parents’ time.  In fact, I’m glad I had the opportunity to give her a dramatic moment in my fiction, and am even more happy to know that now her legacy is official. Much appreciation to you and your team, Jessica, for all the important details and personalities featured by the (Vancouver) Heritage Foundation.  A respected and remembered past truly enriches us all.