Alexander Cumyow was the first Chinese born in Canada (at Port Douglas, B.C.
on Harrison Lake). He grew up in New Westminster and was briefly a labour contractor
until 1884 when he moved to Victoria and studied law. He spoke English, Cantonese,
Hakka, and Native Indian Chinook. In 1888, he was appointed court interpreter
in Vancouver, a position that he held until 1936.
Won Cumyow was deeply involved in the causes of the local community and the politics of China. He was the English language secretary of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Victoria, an organization that was established in 1884 to look after the welfare of the Chinese in Canada.
As well, in 1899 he was a founder of the Vancouver chapter of the Empire Reform Association [Chungkwok Weisun Wui; Zhongguo Weixin Hui], an association formed to advocate modernization of China through progressive reform. It held its meetings in the Sing Kew Theatre on Shanghai Alley. Both in his community involvement and profession, he performed the important role of interpreting between the Chinese and the white communities, bridging understanding between the two through language.
With many opportunities to speak for the community, he revealed to the Royal Commission of 1901 the loneliness of many Chinese men in Vancouver.
"A large proportion of them would bring their families here" he said, "were it not for the unfriendly reception... which creates an unsettled feeling."
the political cause in China, he announced to the Vancouver press at the height
of the Boxer Movement in China in 1900 that his group was ready to send Overseas
Chinese troops to accompany foreign forces to release the missionaries and
diplomats besieged by the anti-Western Boxers and also to rescue the Chinese
Emperor from the Empress Dowager.
had six sons and four daughters. His son, Gordon, succeeded him as court interpreter.
His wife, Eva Yea Chan was the daughter of Reverend Chan Sing-Kai [Chen Shengkai],
who established the Chinese Methodist Church in Vancouver and was the first
Chinese ordained by the Methodist Church in Canada. Cumyow lived a long life
of 94 years.
Renowned Chinese statesman, Li Hongzhang [Li Hung Chang] visits Vancouver
- the first major Chinese political figure to visit Canada. He is welcomed
by a crowd of 6,000 from the Vancouver and other Chinese communities
and confers with the Vancouver Board of Trade.
Revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-Sen [Sun Zhongshan] pays his first
visit to Canada to seek overseas support.
Sing Kew Dramatic Society builds a 500-seat theatre at 544 Shanghai
Alley: Sing Kew Theatre [Xingqiao Juyuan].
Famous scholar and Empire Reform Association founder, Kang Youwei [Hong
Yao Wai] visits Vancouver and establishes a branch of that association,
which flourishes from 1899 to 1911.
According to some estimates Vancouver Chinese population rises to 2,840.
Empire Reform Association holds meetings in Sing Kew theatre, frequently
inviting Caucasian guest speakers, with Won Alexander Cumyow acting
Head Tax on Chinese immigrants is raised to $100.
Empire Reform Association opens a new three-storey building on Carrall
Street. The building also opens at the back onto Shanghai Alley. The
general public is invited to inspect the building during the Chinese
New Year celebration.
The building also houses the Oikwok Hoktong [Aiguo Xuetang], or Patriotic
School, the first recorded Chinese school in the city.
Famous scholar and reformer, Liang Qichao [Leung Kai Chiu] visits Empire
Reform Association. He is the Guest of Honour at a dinner attended by
business and political leaders from B.C. and nearby Washington State.
CHINESE REFORM GAZETTE [YAT SUN BO: RI XIN ] , a Chinese-language newspaper,
is published by the Empire Reform Association at 530 Shanghai Alley
Head Tax is raised to $500.
Kang Youwei visits Vancouver again to seek overseas support. He is interviewed
at Hotel Vancouver and entertained by a group that includes Japanese
and American consuls and other non-Chinese.
Dupont Street is renamed Pender Street.
Chinese businessmen, led by Wing Sang Company, develop Canton Alley
at a cost of $50,000.
There are 27 Chinese businesses on Canton Alley, including 11 merchandise
and grocery stores, 5 tailor shops, 3 restaurants, 3 barber shops, and
A group of Chinese businessmen asks the City's Board of Works to pave
Shanghai Alley is listed in the City Directory for the first time -
as "Shanghai Street."
Non-Chinese prostitutes move en masse to Shanghai Alley and Canton Alley
after City Council directs their eviction from their former location.
After the Chinese Board of Trade petitions and protests, the restricted
area later moves to another location.