A Little Blog

Asian Heritage Month 

May is Asian Heritage Month, a time to celebrate people of Asian descent in Canada. Little Canada is featuring some remarkable people who have enriched Canadian society in a multitude of ways. 

Arlene Chan is a Toronto-born Chinese Canadian historian, author, activist, and athlete. She has won awards for her written work, been recognized for her leadership and achievements in her community. She has also won plenty of medals as part of the Canadian National Women’s Dragon Boat Team.  

We were so excited to invite Arlene, her husband Leo, and her sister Janet to visit Little Canada! When asked, here is what she had to say about her experience:  

What did you enjoy most about your visit to Little Canada?  

Arlene Chan: We really enjoyed seeing Chinatown and the mural of my mother, Jean Lumb. We were so delighted to see it and to find the plaque with the description. The streets were filled with familiar restaurants, stores, and street artwork. I was a cultural consultant for Turning Red, the Pixar film that was set in Chinatown, so I was delighted to see the red panda on a rooftop in Chinatown. 

We were particularly impressed with all the staff, from the door entrance greeters on the Yonge Street entrance, at the ticket booth, and throughout the displays. They were all very friendly, welcoming, genuinely caring, attentive, and warm. We also chatted with the model makers. I like the open window that makes it so inviting for people to stop, admire, and ask questions.  

You are to be congratulated on recruiting such a well-trained group of young people. We will highly recommend our friends and relatives to visit. 

Since you, your sister, Janet, and your husband, Leo, were scanned at our Littlization Station, do you know where you’d like to see your Little Mes placed? 

Arlene Chan: We’d love to be placed together in Chinatown on the street watching the lion and dragon dances! 

Hide Show
  • Arlene Chan

    Arlene Chan

    Jean B. Lumb's Daughter

  • Janet Lumb

    Janet Lumb

    Jean B. Lumb's Daughter

  • Leo Chan

    Leo Chan

    Arlene's Husband

  • Little Arlene, Janet and Leo in Little Toronto's Chinatown

    Little Arlene, Janet and Leo in Little Toronto's Chinatown

Were there any scenes or references within the world that stood out to you or that you would consider your favourite; maybe something you found funny or something you would want to point out to other people to look out for? 

 Arlene Chan: We all LOVED the experience, the displays, and the setup. The first room in Niagara Falls with the Niagara River really set us up for the rest of the exhibits. The day/night scenes and level of detail were so impressive. We caught the firework display on Parliament Hill. Seeing the train passengers when the doors opened was a surprise.   

As Arlene mentioned, her mother is Jean B. Lumb, a woman who has left an incredible and inspiring legacy. Although the Chinese Immigration Act (Chinese Exclusion Act) was repealed in 1947, it remained extremely difficult for Chinese Canadians to bring over their relatives from China. In 1957 Jean Lumb was the only woman among 40 delegates to lobby for the lifting of family reunification restrictions. Their efforts were successful and by 1967, all immigration restrictions on the basis of race or origin were removed.   

 Another notable contribution she made for the Chinese Canadian community was taking the lead and coordinating the “Save Chinatown Committee” when the city proposed tearing down all of Chinatown in order to rebuild Toronto City Hall. It was this community contribution that ultimately led to Lumb receiving the Order of Canada in 1976. She was the first Chinese woman, and first restaurateur to receive this honour of merit.   

Your mother, Jean B. Lumb, made history as the first Chinese Canadian woman and first restauranteur to be inducted into the Order of Canada. She is known for her incredible work, lobbying the federal government to change its discriminatory immigration policies against Chinese families and citizens. What does it mean to have your mother’s story and legacy shared with new generations, whether they first learn about her from a visit to Little Canada and see the mural in Little Chinatown, attend the public school named after her, or research and read about her efforts? 

Arlene Chan: My mother’s accomplishments are remarkable, so her story and recognition are so important for sharing and passing on to future generations. Canada is a country of diverse people, all arriving at some point in time from another country to settle with the Indigenous Peoples who were already here. We need to be constantly reminded to celebrate and highlight our histories so that we appreciate that what we have today is the result of the obstacles and the hardships endured in the past. 

At Little Canada, we have dedicated a mural in Jean B. Lumb’s honour in Little Toronto’s Little Chinatown. Arlene, Janet, and Leo’s Little Mes have all been placed watching the dragon dance! 

Is there anything else you feel would be interesting for people to learn about for Asian Heritage month? 

Arlene Chan: This year, July 1st, 2023, marks the 100th year since the enactment of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923. This law banned virtually all Chinese from coming into Canada for 24 years until 1947. It is significant to note this date to show how much Canada and the Chinese communities across the country have changed and flourished for the better. There will be many programs, exhibits, and events to mark this centenary including the annual wreath-laying ceremony on July 1st at the Monument to Commemorate the Chinese Railroad Workers that is featured in Little Canada. 

The Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial in Little Canada.

The Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial in Little Canada commemorates the lives and memories of the thousands of Chinese men who came to Canada to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

We’d like to thank Arlene for answering our questions about her visit to Little Canada and sharing more about her mom. To Arlene, Janet, and Leo: we hope you enjoyed your visit to Little Canada, and we can’t wait for you to come back soon! 

Follow us on social media to check out more of our Asian Heritage Month spotlights, some behind the scenes Little East Coast build content, and learn more about Little Canada!