There is not much left to remember Lethbridge’s Chinatown by, but emerging local artist and alumna Angeline Simon (BFA ’18) is looking to uncover the forgotten memories of a formative time in local history.
Angeline’s artwork is featured as the new exhibition in the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery’s satellite space, the Christou Gallery. Titled A Glimpse into Chinatown, Angeline is showcasing images of the architecture in Chinatown, along with archival texts and objects that address anti-Asian racism in Lethbridge.
“With this exhibition, I’m hoping to uncover forgotten histories in Lethbridge. There is a lot of history with Chinatown, and I think not many people think about that anymore, especially with how it’s kind of an empty street now. There’s things like the Christmas Riot of 1907 and Bylaw 83 that many people are just unaware of.”
Anti-Chinese racism in Lethbridge drove the creation of Bylaw 83 in 1910. This bylaw was instrumental in creating Chinatown in Lethbridge, as it mandated that all Chinese laundries be moved to a segregated area, essentially forcing other Chinese businesses and residents to relocate to that area. After the repeal of the bylaw in 1916, the Chinese population had built a strong community presence in the area, despite growing anti-Chinese sentiments and discriminatory practices within Lethbridge.
Chinatown’s storied history is on the brink of extinction in the present day. The last living resident of Chinatown, Albert Leong, was forced to sell the building he was born in after plans to repair it fell through. The Bow On Tong Co. and the Kwong On Lung buildings, which Albert’s family owned for more than 100 years, were sold last summer, following unsuccessful attempts to restore and preserve the structures. These buildings, the last remaining structures of Chinatown, were declared a provincial historic site in 2019. Angeline’s exhibition features an image of the Bow On Tong Co. and Kwong On Lung buildings from the Lethbridge Historical Society.
The two buildings provided lodging, a restaurant, a grocery store, a household goods store, and a Chinese herbal medicine shop for many Chinese residents in Lethbridge. Angeline recalls her own family visiting the shop when she was young, emphasizing the importance of the structures to the Chinese community.
“A lot of people spent time here. Bow On Tong was also kind of like a hangout area, lots of people would spend time and gamble and such. That was a good pastime because there wasn’t a lot to do back in the day,” she says.
Art Gallery Director/Curator Dr. Josephine Mills notes this exhibition is an exercise in social practice, one that came about when Angeline was paired with artist Alana Bartol for a mentorship associated with Bartol’s project titled Processes of Remediation: art, relationships, nature.
“Angeline’s beautiful, poetic images and personal approach in A Glimpse into Chinatown creates a compelling connection for viewers to the ongoing legacy of race relations in our region.”
When the mentorship was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the relationship between Angeline and Alana took on added importance.
“Working with Alana and Josie, I was trying to break out of my shell with the current art that I normally make, which is more focused on my own heritage and family history,” Angeline says. “I wanted to break out of that and think about Lethbridge histories and what’s important right now, especially with the rise of anti-Asian racism that coincided with the pandemic.”
Angeline notes that it is a big honour to open the exhibition at the University of Lethbridge, where she completed her fine arts degree in Art Studio and says she walked past the gallery every day.
“My time at the university greatly influences my work because I had a lot of amazing professors and learned a lot, learned how to think critically about art and how to convey ideas and questions.”
Josephine adds that Angeline was already showing exceptional promise during her time as a student at uLethbridge.
“The rare combination of her thoughtful approach to social issues and technical skill caught my attention. Since graduating in 2018, she has continued to explore connections between historical and contemporary ideas by juxtaposing archival images with her own recent photographs.”
The exhibition is on in the Christou Gallery from January 21 to June 10, 2022. You can find more of Angeline’s work here.