Archives of the Yip family and company

Yip Sang with four of his childrenI was recently asked where all of the archival material related to the Yip Family and the Wing Sang Company (later the Yip Sang Company) is kept. Because Yip Sang and his family were so prominent in the early days of Vancouver’s Chinese-Canadian community, they are now of great interest to researchers. It seems like a good time to highlight the various places where this archival material can be found:

The two main institutions with archives originating from the Yip family are here in the Chung Collection at UBC Library and also at the City of Vancouver Archives.  In the Chung Collection, we have a number of family photographs and other family documents, such as correspondence between the siblings, Christmas cards, wedding and party invitations; personal documents of some of the siblings and their various career and personal interests; and extensive business records of the Wing Sang/Yip Sang Company, including records of steamship ticket sales, and records related to their exporting and cannery businesses. We also have a number of artifacts from the Wing Sang building, mostly related to business, such as clipboards, a lantern and rubber stamps.

At the City of Vancouver Archives, there are similar documents, including family photographs and business records. What makes the material at the City of Vancouver really special are more than 600 undelivered letters sent to and from Chinese immigrants and Chinese family and friends in China. The Yip family acted as unofficial postmasters for the Chinese-Canadian community, because letters addressed with Chinese characters could not be delivered by the Canadian postal system. The undelivered letters in the fonds are written in older style Chinese, dating from ca. 1903 to 1919.  Through a joint digitization project between UBC Library and the City of Vancouver Archives, these letters are now digitized and available online.

Finally, there are over 300 artifacts related to the Yip family at the Museum of Vancouver. You can see some of their Chinatown artifacts online, and see some artifacts in person in their Gateway to the Pacific exhibition.

How did the archives of one family end up in two institutions? When the Wing Sang building renovations were started in the 1980’s, one family member offered some of the historical material to Dr. Chung, and another family member sent other material to the City of Vancouver Archives (you can read the really interesting story of their salvage operation in the Wing Sang building on their website). The good news is, both halves of the collection are now in public institutions, freely available to any researcher who wishes to view them! You can even search both the digitized material from Chung Collection and the undelivered Yip letters through our joint project The Chinese Experience in B.C. 1850-1950.

You can read more about the Yip family through the Chung Collection, and also browse all of the Yip family and company items in the collection; you can also access online a finding aid to the collection at the City of Vancouver Archives.