Chinese immigrant advocate Lilian To honoured with street moniker

July 25, 2016

By Stephanie Ip, Vancouver Sun |

Lilian To once left a family vacation in Los Angeles in order to fly back to Vancouver to attend a one-day S.U.C.C.E.S.S. board meeting.

“And then flew back to join us at the parade, where the fireworks are and Mickey Mouse is,” said To’s son Daniel. “That was the dedication she had.”

To, credited with bridging the gap between immigrants and the local community, was honoured Friday in Vancouver, where a street moniker was named in her memory, to acknowledge her tireless, decades-long work with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and its immigrant outreach programs. Her son Daniel was on hand to accept the honour.

Lilian To Way is the first street in the city to be named after a Chinese-Canadian. The motion to designate a street in To’s honour was brought forward by Coun. Raymond Louie in 2005, following To’s passing.

“As a trailblazer and an advocate for immigrant rights, Lilian will be remembered for her extraordinary contributions to this work and for making Vancouver a more welcoming city,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson Friday. “Today, we’re here to recognize that legacy and extraordinary leadership.”
To, who died in 2005 at the age of 59, was the former CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. During her time with the organization, she worked to help it grow from an immigrant settlement agency for the Chinese population, to what’s now a multi-service and multilingual organization, serving all of Metro Vancouver.

Robertson was on hand Friday to unveil the two signs bearing To’s name and image — one installed on a post under the Shanghai Alley street sign, and a second gifted to To’s family — as well as a bilingual commemorative plaque, all of which is located just outside the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Social Service Centre in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

“I’ve heard many stories over the years in my time as mayor about Lilian’s dedication and her selflessness: how she refused pay increases and asked the board to make sure that that money went to her staff, how she insisted on attending board meetings when she was in the hospital — and really, she had to ask for special leave in order to attend SUCCESS board meetings,” said Robertson.

Grace Wong, the board chairwoman of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., spoke of how intertwined To had become with her work.

“For so many people, I think the names Lilian To and SUCCESS are almost synonymous,” said Wong.

“They both mean standing for commitment to supporting immigrants and newcomers to Canada and building multicultural harmony in our society.”

Under To’s direction, the organization also went on to build the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Social Service Centre at the Dr. Dorothy Lam Building, Simon K.Y. Lee Seniors Care Home, Chieng’s Adult Day Centre, and the Harmony House Assisted Living Residence along Shanghai Alley, often dubbed the birthplace of Vancouver’s Chinatown.

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