Over the next week, Calgarians will have the chance to see comments made about James Short in the park that formerly bore his name.
Banners created by Annie Wong for A Park Without a Name will be hung on lamp posts along the edge of the central courtyard from Oct. 25 through 28.
The pop-up art exhibition is part of the City of Calgary’s anti-racism efforts, and to address the historical harm that naming the park after James Short has had on the Chinatown community.
Jennifer Thompson, Manager of Arts & Culture at The City of Calgary, said this exhibit is a way to acknowledge the harmful part the City of Calgary played in racism against Chinese Calgarians.
“This is part of a more harmonious future, beginning with the park renaming that will happen on November 1,” she said.
The banners feature phrases selected by Wong from conversations with community members, in both Traditional Chinese and English.
Wong said she chose the phrases based on the comments that had the most impact from her conversations during her art residency in the community.
“I really do hope that it sparks a conversation about how do we name parts of the land? How to remember history? And how do we use history, to be held in spaces like these,” Wong said.
“I hope that it also like also inspires people to think about the erasure of Chinatown’s history, and how do we move forward with deeper conversations addressing historical truths and harms of racism in the past.”
She said that visitors reflect on the beauty of the work, along with the “beauty in speaking truth, and in giving voice to the community voice, and to these feelings are often not shared so openly.”
‘Staking a claim’
Fung Ling Feimo, a local arts advocate and member of the Tomorrow’s Chinatown advisory group, said that Wong was giving laying claim to a place they could heal.
“She’s staking a claim to the park for the community so that we can actually begin to heal, because this is a symbolic place for us to heal,” Feimo said.
Wong addressed the number of instances that Short’s name appears on the banners, by saying he’s a figure that can’t be ignored.
“We cannot ignore him as a figure or, or ignore that the park was named after him,” she said.
“So, I think it’s still very into very important to recognize who he was, what he did, and name him.”
Short was a prominent Calgarian and city pioneer, who worked as the head of the city’s first public school, principal of the city’s first high school, a lawyer and Crown prosecutor. Short also promoted racism, bigotry, and the segregation of Chinese Calgarians as a prominent leader of the city’s then anti-Chinese movement around the turn of the century.
Feimo said that the history of Calgary’s Chinatown and the legacy of racist legislation in Canada has been forgotten. Next year, 2023, will mark the centennial of the Chinese Immigration Act. The act, is also commonly referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act in reference to the same act in the United States, as both nations banned the immigration of Chinese people.
A reflection of history before the park is renamed
Reflecting on the history of Chinatown, Wong said that it can sometimes be difficult for community members to be open about their experiences.
“I work a lot with community members, particularly in Chinatown or from the Chinese diaspora, and working through these histories is always difficult,” she said.
“Being able to share them openly is also quite challenging.”
The project began shortly after after then Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell initiated the process in council to rename the park. That motion was supported by the Chinatown BIA, and Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong, who was then the executive director of the BIA.
“Feelings about James Short in the community were being revisited, and being spoken somewhat openly, and somewhat in more intimate circles,” Annie Wong said.
“So, I was very grateful that we were able to carve out our own space, and our own opportunity to process these feelings.”
The motion to rename the park passed council 14-1, with only then-Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart voting against.
Feimo said that actually having a Chinese name attached to the park will change the way members of the Chinatown community view the area.
“I think people are excited excited about having a actually a Chinese name attached to the park—a name written in the Chinese language,” Feimo said.