The Jade Peony Bookmarked in Chinatown

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There is nothing like reading a book that contains familiar settings to give a reader a sense of connection to the story. The founders of Project Bookmark Canada feel the same way, and for the past 3 years they have been placing ceramic plaques, or bookmarks, in the exact physical location where the literary scene in a book takes place. Ten bookmarks have been placed in Ontario and another in Newfoundland. Yesterday the first bookmark in Western Canada was unveiled in Vancouver.

Wayson Choy’s classic and iconic Vancouver novel The Jade Peony is the first Vancouver installation from Project Bookmark Canada. At a public ceremony Monday at the southeast corner of Pender St. and Gore Ave., two plaques containing a passage from the book, one in English and one in Mandarin, were unveiled.

Project Bookmark Canada founder and Executive Director Miranda Hill; Wayson Choy

Vancouver Writers Fest Artistic Director Hal Wake, Wayson Choy, and City of Vancouver Councillor and Deputy Mayor Raymond Louie

Calling Project Bookmark Canada a “charity that punches above its weight,” founder and Executive Director Miranda Hill talked about the important collaborations involved in making this bookmark happen.

“From the beginning of trying to bring a bookmark to Vancouver I’ve had a wonderful community partner and a wonderful individual partner in Hal Wake,” she said. “Hal has always been so supportive of me, as a sounding board for ideas around bringing bookmarks here.”

Another person who has played an important role is writer Anna Ling Kaye, Literary Editor of Prism Magazine and President of the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop. In addition to assisting with finding and photographing the actual location for the bookmark and working with city officials, Ling Kaye arranged for the translation of the passage into Mandarin.

Hill also acknowledged the work done by Bryan Newson at the City of Vancouver and the funding support from the The Metcalf Foundation. And she noted that no one would be aware of the story if not for local publishers Douglas & McIntyre.

First published in 1995 by Douglas & McIntyre, The Jade Peony offers a child’s eye view of  Vancouver’s Chinatown in the 1930s and 1940s. It shared the Trillium Book Award for best book in 1995 (with Margaret Atwood’s Morning in the Burned House), was the recipient of the 1996 City of Vancouver Book Award, and has sold more than 100,000 copies.

After the speeches, Anna Ling Kaye read the passage in Mandarin, followed by Wayson Choy reading it in English.

Anna Ling Kaye, Wayson Choy, and Miranda Hill

Approximately 70 people were in attendance at the unveiling, including Vancouver Moving Theatre Executive Producer Terry Hunter, Annie Young, Rosanne Gervaise, Elwin Xie, Sid Chow Tan, and the always resplendent Faye Leung. 

Photos by liisa hannus