The unveiling of Yucho Chow, chronicler of old Chinatown

May 17, 2017

By Joanne Lee-Young, Vancouver Sun |

The small, round Yucho Chow Studio seal, with its Chinese characters and Vancouver Chinatown address, is embossed on hundreds of group and individual portraits taken over four decades during the early 1900s.

Most are now tucked in dusty albums in basements and attics across the city. They were taken by a jovial, prolific artist, whose own image and story had been little known, and fading away even to his own descendants, until now.

For years, Catherine Clement, as curator of the Chinese-Canadian Military Museum, had been meeting with veterans and their relatives. They would bring out their old family photos and, over and over again, Clement would see that same Yucho Chow Studio seal.

She started to link his photos together for a unique crispness or “a really interesting background,” the flair of a long, flowing curtain, or the modernity of a young boy plopped on a tricycle for a studio shot in the late 1920s.

By fluke, Clement was interviewing a woman about her husband one day, when the conversation steered off to her grandfather.

From there, she was able to track down and recently unveil a life-size image of Chow himself, as part of the city-backed “Chinatown History Windows” project.

Chow is wearing a pale-coloured, three-piece suit and Panama hat with a dark ribbon. His broad face wears a warm smile. The year is 1927.

“He’s got kind of an air about him. In another (photo), he has a cigar and is sort of looking at the camera,” said Clement, who has been bringing to life “big pivotal moments and trends in Chinatown history,” but has a soft spot for this rather unsung one.

“All these hundreds and hundreds of families, who have his seal in their photo albums. … And for the first time, we get to see him. Only a few people are left who ever met (Chow), and yet his work resides in the heritage vaults of so many families.”

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