This is a guest blog post by Linda Yip, member of the Ancestry Canada Advisory Board.
I am fascinated by the lives of my ancestors.
To me, genealogy only begins with the documents – those birth, marriage, and death records – because what I want most to know is the story. Who were they, really? What were they like as children? What did they dream?
In this story, I’d like to tell you about the early life of one woman, before she became the woman she became.
This month, I had the privilege of looking at the life of Susanne Gim Ling Yip Sang, the fourth daughter of legendary businessman, philanthropist, and community leader Yip Sang of Vancouver, BC. In her early documents, she most often went by “Susan.” Even after she married and became Madame Leung, I noticed Susan still liked using her maiden name on passenger lists and manifests. I saw too, how proud she was to be a daughter of Yip Sang, for she often used his whole name as her last name like this: Susan Yipsang.
Gim Ling “Susan” Yip was born on Wednesday, December 2, 1896 in Vancouver, BC. She died on January 12, 1985, at the age of 88, also in Vancouver, BC. If you read these two facts alone, you could be forgiven for thinking she never went anywhere exciting. She was born at home, at 29 Dupont Street, in Chinatown. (If you look for that street today, you won’t find it. Dupont became E. Pender in 1907, and the building at No. 29 was renumbered to No. 51.)
When I think about Susan’s rise to head of the First Provincial Girls’ Middle School in Canton (Guangzhou) in the 1930s (Internet Archive 1933), I think about her roots and how she got there. Susan’s father, Yip Sang, clearly did far more than merely value education – he put a high priority on it, for his sons and for his daughters. He built a school within the walls of 51-69 E. Pender Street, and employed Chinese and English teachers. In those days, Canada was a harsh place to grow up Chinese. While Susan was graduating from Britannia High School in Vancouver and setting her sights on being a teacher, Moose Jaw restaurant owner Quong Wing was fighting in the Supreme Court of Canada for the right to employ white women in his restaurant (scc-csc.lexum.com 1914).
1914-1915 seemed to be a good time to study education. The Provincial Normal School – so called because it taught the “norms” of education – opened a sister school in Victoria in 1915, and the programs expanded from 4 months to 9 months, and then two years (University of Victoria 1984). I don’t know if Susan took the four month or the nine-month teacher’s program, but I sense she was a keen student, because she no sooner completed her studies at the Provincial Normal School than she immediately enrolled in McGill University.
In Montreal, I thought. Well, perhaps. I haven’t yet found Susan Yip in college yearbooks, but I’m curious: was she a part of the last class of McGill University College of BC (UBC 2018), or did she travel to Montreal? Until I began researching Susan’s early life, I had no idea of the history of the University of British Columbia, and its roots with the Universities of Toronto and McGill.
Susan began her teaching career at the new Oriental School in Vancouver, which opened on 7 May 1917 (Newspapers.com 1917). A newspaper from August, 1917, talks of a picnic, and mentions the three Chinese female teachers, Miss Chen, Miss Chu, and Miss Yip. What the article doesn’t mention is the mounting demand for segregation in BC schools and the strong pushback from the Chinese community (Stanley 1991). In 1922-23, the Victoria School Board decided to implement segregation, and the Chinese students went on strike for a year to protest (Canada’s History and Robertson 2016).
Susan was 22 years old when she crossed the border from Montreal, Canada to New York, NY, to attend Columbia University. She did in three years what regular students do in five: take a B.A. and a M.A. (Newspapers.com 1919). She seemed determined and motivated. I didn’t know her but I can guess why.
By 1923, she’d left Canada to teach in Guangzhou, China, and the rest of her story will have to wait for another day.
Canada’s History, and Jesse Robertson. 2016. Chinese Students Challenge Segregation. Mar 31.
Internet Archive. 1933. Chinese teachers returns to home; The Daily Colonist. Victoria, May 02.
Newspapers.com. 1919. Chinese league honored teacher, The Gazette. Montreal, Sep 23.
Newspapers.com. 1917. Chinese picnic, Vancouver Daily World. Vancouver, Aug 06.
scc-csc.lexum.com. 1914. Supreme Court of Canada, Quong-Wing v. The King. Feb 23.
Stanley, Timothy J. 1991. Defining the Chinese other: white supremacy, schooling and social structure in British Columbia before 1923. Montreal: McGill University, Sep.
UBC. 2018. The history of the university; UBC Library. Vancouver, Feb 19.
University of Victoria. 1984. Provincial Normal School. Victoria.
Linda is a member of the Ancestry Canada Advistory Board and writes about her latest genealogy finds from tools to uncovered family stories on her blog Past-Presence.com. She’s an active member of the BC and SK genealogy societies and is also a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. Her passions are the history of the Chinese in Canada, Force 136, her growing collection of 30K+ images, and keeping her finds organized! Most weekends you’ll find her curled up on the couch with her laptop, either researching or writing about genealogy.