One of the projects undertaken by our colleagues at UBC Rare Books and Special Collections during the COVID-19 shut-down of on-campus operations  has been to develop a new on-line guide to Chinese-Canadian materials in their collections.  One of the subjects being researched for this project was the identity of the first Chinese-Canadian graduate of UBC.

Racist attitudes towards Chinese immigrants were prevalent in Canada, especially in British Columbia, early in the 20th Century, as were discriminatory government policies.  The federal government’s head tax, charged to each Chinese person entering Canada, continued to be levied until 1923.  That year the Chinese Immigration Act abolished the tax while banning almost all immigration from China.  Nevertheless, members of the immigrant community continued to successfully improve their economic and social status despite the systemic racism they encountered in both public policy and in society at large.  As Chinese students were exempt from the immigration ban, one possible way for them to do so was to pursue higher education.

While there were no official barriers at UBC and Chinese students were presumably welcomed by the administration like any other students, the University was still part of British Columbia society and so still reflected that society’s attitudes.  White students, even if they otherwise did their best to treat a Chinese classmate as one of their own, would sometimes reveal the racist attitudes that they grew up with.  For example, terms like “Celestial” (a slang term for anybody of Chinese descent, China being nicknamed “The Celestial Kingdom”) or “Chinaman”, or worse, occasionally found their way onto the printed pages of the Annual (a.k.a. the Totem) yearbook and the Ubyssey student newspaper.

Graduation photo of Thomas Moore Whaun, Arts '27, from the 1927 Totem yearbook.The initial draft of the new RBSC on-line guide stated that Thomas Moore Whaun (left) was the first Chinese-Canadian graduate of UBC.  Born as Tung Mow Wong in China in 1893, he immigrated to Canada in 1907 – anglicizing his name in the process.  According to back issues of the UBC Calendar Whaun entered UBC in 1921.  He took two years off from his studies to work for the Canada Morning News newspaper, and eventually graduated as a member of the Arts 1927 class.  According the Totem for that year:

An ardent student of Economics and History, and an extensive reader, he loves to get to the bottom of all social problems. Thoroughly versed in Chinese affairs, Moore may often be found explaining the situation in the Far East to a group of interested students.

After reviewing the guide, UBC Chinese Language Librarian Jing Liu noted that several members of the Yip family had attended UBC earlier than 1921, and that there might have been other Chinese-Canadian students during that period.  RBSC Archivist Krisztina Laszlo then reached out to the University Archives for more information.

Searching digitized issues of both the Calendar and the yearbook did indeed reveal more information.  While the yearbooks listed the members of each graduating class, with accompanying biographical sketches and graduation photographs, in those days the Calendar listed all students registered each year, making it relatively easy to track students’ progress.  This is a case where referring to published (secondary) sources is as effective, and far easier, than going through original (primary) sources, such as old student records from the Registrar’s Office, which were not available for review anyway due to pandemic restrictions.

Photo of Quene Yip as member of 1925-26 UBC first soccer team, from 1926 Totem yearbookA search of the Calendar showed that several members of the Yip family did indeed attend UBC in those early days.  Kew Park Yip registered in the Faculty of Agriculture in 1918, then transferred to Arts in 1919.  Kew Ghim Yip registered in Arts in 1920.  Later that decade, Quene Kew Yip (right) and Kew Dock Yip entered Arts in 1925 and 1926, respectively.  Quene Yip joined the varsity soccer team and track team as a freshman, and had an immediate impact:

Quene Yip, the Chinese star, needs no introduction to Vancouver soccer lovers, but there may be some students who have not been privileged to see him perform yet. He is rated as one of the best centers on the Pacific Coast, and he well deserves that reputation. He is tricky, clean and fast. (Totem, 1926)

Other Chinese-Canadian students from that period include John Shih Chu, who joined Kew Park Yip in Agriculture in 1918; Thomas Chu, who registered in the Faculty of Arts in 1919; Violet Wong and Sow Poon Wong, both of whom entered Arts in 1922; and Shu-Yen Chen and Jung Bow Wing, listed in the Calendar as being from China, and who both entered Arts in 1916.  However, none of these individuals are listed as graduates from UBC, either in the Calendar or the yearbook.  We must assume that they either did not continue their studies, or transferred to other colleges or universities.  Whether this was due to racist attitudes that they encountered on campus, or other unrelated reasons, is unknown.

Going even further back in time, McGill University College of British Columbia, UBC’s immediate post-secondary predecessor, also attracted some Chinese-Canadians to register as students.  May Susan Ling Yipsang was registered as a first-year at McGill BC in 1914, but did not continue her studies.

Bertha Hosang registered in the Arts programme in 1910, and continued at McGill BC for two years.  She made enough of an impression for the 1911 Annual to use a quote from the classic Japanese story Genji Monogatara or The Tale of Genji to describe her as “So young and bright” (that it was incongruous, if not bizarre, to quote a Japanese work to describe a Chinese student, as if the two “Oriental” nationalities were interchangeable, didn’t seem to occur to the editors).  The 1913 Annual tells readers that Bertha went on to the Vancouver Business Institute, “where she was awarded a special prize for her accurate work”.

Photo of George Y.K. Shuen from 1913 McGill BC AnnualFinally, flipping the pages of UBC (pre)history back to 1909, the McGill BC Calendar notes that George Y.K. Shuen (right) registered in Arts that year; dropping out after one term, he returned and entered the Applied Science programme in 1911.  A recent immigrant from China, George Shuen’s residence is given as Vancouver in the McGill UBC Calendar, while in the 1913 Annual he’s described as having been “born somewhere in China or thereabouts”.  The patronizing tone of that editorial remark is exacerbated by later referring to him as a “Celestial”.

As McGill BC was only a two-year college, students would have had to go elsewhere to complete their degrees – we must assume that George Shuen did so.  However, it is safe to say that he was the first Chinese-Canadian to attend what would later become UBC.

Graduation photo of Esther Fong Dickman (Arts '26) from the 1926 Totem yearbookBut what about those Chinese-Canadian students who actually graduated from UBC?  The year before Thomas Whaun received his degree, Esther Evangeline Fong Dickman (left) was a member of Arts 1926.  Her bio in the Totem read, in part, “Mathematician, platonist, and erstwhile philosopher, Esther is the class enigma.  She divides the principal part of her time between the Students’ International Club, the Math. Club, the S.C.M., Phil. essays (of all things), Economics, and a few other cheerful divertissements. Favorite occupation, starting for the library. Esther plans to follow the teaching profession…”.  According to Lisa Smedman’s Immigrants: Stories of Vancouver’s people, She was the daughter of Reverend Fong Dickman (born Fong Tak Man), a Methodist minister and prominent member of the Vancouver Island Chinese community.  Esther Fong Dickman was the first Chinese-Canadian woman to graduate from UBC.

Graduation photo of Inglis Hosang (Arts '19) from the 1919 UBC Annual yearbookGoing back further, to 1919, the Annual lists Inglis Hosang (right), the brother of Bertha Hosang, as a graduate from the Faculty of Arts that year.  He was noted as being “… of no small scholarly attainments, and is an accomplished linguist. He won the oratorical contest (in his Sophomore year), and, as a Junior, helped to defeat Washington in the international debate”.  He returned to campus the following year to give a public lecture on “China and the Shantung Problem”.  According to the October 1945 Graduate Chronicle he went on to earn a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley (1931), after which he moved to England, was called to the English Bar in 1934, and became a barrister-at-law.  Hosang later lived in Hong Kong until the Japanese invasion of 1937 – he then moved back to Vancouver where he joined the law firm of A.J.B. Mellish.  He died in August 1945.

Neither the Annual nor the Calendar list any Chinese-Canadians by name as UBC graduates prior to 1919.  So the Archives can confirm that Inglis Hosang (Arts 1919) was the first Chinese-Canadian to graduate from this university.  He, George Y.K. Shuen, Esther Fong Dickman, and others from the McGill BC and early UBC days deserve recognition for their achievements against the prevailing attitudes of their era.  Other current and past Chinese-Canadian UBC students – indeed, all members of the UBC community – owe them a debt of gratitude for contributing to the evolution of a more diverse and welcoming institution.

(Thanks to Krisztina Laszlo and Jing Liu for their helpful comments on an early draft of this article)

Businesses, educational institutions, and many other institutions have closed or at least severely limited public access.  Hospitals are struggling to deal with waves of sick individuals, with other facilities being converted into makeshift hospitals.  Citizens are being told to stay home as much as possible, and to avoid gathering in groups.  Everybody is listening to news reports from foreign countries, documenting mounting death tolls and rising social tensions, while waiting with a growing sense of dread for the situation at home to get worse.

While this sounds like the current COVID-19 epidemic, the situation described applies to a similar crisis that hit Vancouver and the University of British Columbia over a century ago: the great influenza epidemic of 1918-19 (a.k.a. the “Spanish flu”), that afflicted the entire world as the First World War was drawing to a close.

The first case of influenza was reported in Vancouver on 5 October 1918; the first death was recorded on the 10th.  The number of daily reported cases spiraled upwards rapidly, reaching 522 on the 22nd October, while the death rate peaked on 27 October when 24 died that day.

Life on the original UBC Fairview campus (where Vancouver General Hospital stands today) began to change within a few days of the local appearance of the flu virus.  By 14 October local hospitals had become so overcrowded that the Auditorium and an adjacent classroom building were taken over by VGH.  An improvised hospital ward with 100 beds was quickly set up, exclusively for influenza cases – access to students and all other non-medical personnel was cut off.  The Board of Governors declared that they had “consented to this occupation on the representation of the city health officer and of the hospital board that such additional accommodation in the vicinity of the hospital is absolutely necessary in the present situation, and their assurance that the use of the buildings for this purpose will not be a source of danger to the students” (The Province, 14 October 1918).

Closure of the auditorium forced the relocation of several classes.  Some were moved to the local Baptist Church, others to the science drafting room, and one was even held in the stack room of the Library.  Students’ Council meetings had to be held in a corridor, among stacked furniture removed from the council room.  By Friday the 18th a meeting of the student body had passed a resolution asking the Board of Governors to close the university until conditions improved.

The announcement that University classes would be suspended due to the epidemic was made on 20 October.  The closure would last five weeks, forcing the re-vamping of the entire academic calendar.  Christmas exams would eventually be delayed until February, and the second term extended by two weeks.  All student activities, such as sporting events, theatre productions, and publication of the Ubyssey, were also cancelled.  When the war ended on 11 November, there was no opportunity for the University community, born in war-time only three years earlier, to celebrate.

Not only were regular classes disrupted by the epidemic – other educational groups based on the campus saw their activities interrupted as well.  These included the Vancouver Institute, which had to cancel or re-schedule several lectures that fall, and the Vancouver Natural History Society.  Evening classes in botany were also postponed indefinitely.

Although classes and social activities were suspended, UBC students and staff did not remain idle.  Some served as orderlies at the hospital, while others worked for the city relief offices and other organizations helping citizens cope during the crisis.  The women of the student Red Cross Society, led by Modern Languages instructor Isabel MacInnes, volunteered as nurses in the VGH influenza ward.  Some of them also found time to make over 300 flu masks and sew 65 pairs of pajamas.  The demonstrated importance of nurses in the treatment of flu patients, whether trained professionals or volunteers, would serve as an impetus to the establishment of UBC’s nursing programme in 1919.

Many students became sick, either during the virus’s first devastating onslaught that fall, or in one of the epidemic’s later waves.  Three students died: H.G. (Horace) Stedman, Wilfrid Moore, and David W. Murray – a fourth, Gerald M. “Shorty” Harvey, had enlisted in the armed forces and died from influenza during basic training.  All were eulogized in the 1919 Annual as “brilliant… promising young men” whose deaths were “deeply felt by students and faculty alike”.  Enrollment still numbered only several hundred, and the University was still a very small, close-knit community.  The deaths of these young men, seemingly spared the horrors of war only to be cut down by disease, affected everybody especially hard.

After the epidemic’s peak in late October the infection and death rates went into steep decline, and the flu had seemingly all but disappeared by the end of November.  Classes resumed on 26 November, and within a week academic and social activities had returned to near-regular routines.  However, the epidemic would soon return: two more waves followed, peaking in January and March, both of which were less extensive than the original outbreak, but with a relatively higher fatality rate.

And then it was over.  Students were left to look back upon what they had survived, and what they had accomplished.  As was written in the “Foreword” of the 1919 Annual, with just a hint of stiff-upper-lipped understatement:

The work of all classes was much disorganised and everyone felt a little out of poise.  But it has been highly pleasing to see the mutual feeling between the Faculty and student body in attempting to regain that which was lost, and to make the present count for the most.

Hopefully, once the current COVID-19 epidemic has subsided, today’s UBC community will be able to look back with similar sentiments.


Tuum Est by Harry T. Logan (1958)
UBC Scrapbooks (1890-1941) – clippings from local newspapers
1919 Annual
Andrews, Margaret W., “Epidemic and Public Health: Influenza in Vancouver, 1918-1919”, BC Studies, No. 34, Summer 1977.


The 17th World Sanskrit Conference logo

The 17th World Sanskrit Conference logo




Convened under the auspices of the International Association of Sanskrit Studies, the triennial World Sanskrit Conference is the premier international forum for professional researchers and educators of the Sanskrit language and its literatures, and of the history, religion, and cultures of pre-modern South Asia.


Attracting 600+ delegates from across the globe, the 17th WSC was held in Vancouver, Canada from July 9-13, 2018 and was the first time that this prestigious event was held in Canada.


Within cIRcle, UBC’s digital repository, this online collection houses the Proceedings of the 17th WSC including selected full-length papers from the 500 presentations approved for inclusion in the conference programme by the WSC2018 Academic Advisory Board. The papers within certain Sections were subject to formal peer review. Note: Papers will continue to be released on a rolling basis.


cIRcle is thrilled to have made these 17th WSC proceedings openly accessible via the Library’s Open Collections digital collection portal and looks forward to preserving them over the long-term for scholarly researchers and beyond for many years to come.


Browse the WSC2018 collection


Visit the WSC2018 website


Learn more about cIRcle





UBC Library's recent acquisition of The Vancouver Weekly Herald and North Pacific News was featured on CBC radio. The interview begins at the 2 hour 50 sec mark.
UBC Library's recent acquisition of The Vancouver Weekly Herald and North Pacific News was featured in the Library Journal's InfoDocket.

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