Finding our Chinese heritage

One of the big ongoing projects at Ashburton Museum is a growing portrait wall of newcomers to the district. Its a reminder of how many people have travelled to be here, and a great introduction to some of our newer – and not so new – members of our diverse community. It’s been a great community project to be working on – and an excellent introduction to the wealth of stories built around newcomers to our district.

The portrait wall project started from two streams of inspiration.

Firstly, one of the distinctive qualities of Ashburton is the diversity of stories that have brought people to this lovely district. As well as the portrait wall, there are a range of activities that museum visitors can participate in, inspired by words, people, stories and origins. A popular option for visitors is to share their place of origin. It’s a simple idea – a New Zealand and world map alongside each other on a wall – that people can add a pin or note to about where they came from. It’s been an interesting way to track the diversity of our visitors, and help them make connections with other’s journeys.

6. A string of lanterns made by visitors to Ashburton Museum to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Photographer Anita Badger.

Conversation starters

The second inspiration was a ‘Start With A Smile’ couch. This bright blue travelling taonga (treasure) has brought together countless people from throughout the district. Tucked in a pocket at the end of the couch is a list of conversation starters – inspiring and intriguing ways to get to know a couch counterpart better.

At Ashburton Museum, we did something similar when we asked people to contribute their photo for the portrait wall. Asking where they came from, what they love most about Ashburton, why they came here – and often with a surprisingly different answer – why they stayed here. We thought we’d get some good answers, but even more special has been the depth of knowledge amassed, and some very special additions to our collections.

2. Richard Yee (left) and Young King (Yep's father) in a 1957 parade reenacting the days when King Bros. delivered produce by horse and cart.

Our Chinese heritage

Many people would know something of Chinese heritage in our district. A lot of people remember purchasing green groceries from the King Bros., or recall their parents doing so. Until recently, however, there has been little to record this history at Ashburton Museum.

The first three Toi Shan men came to Ashburton in 1911, to start a market garden. They were followed in 1921 by a larger group from the village of Wing Loong.

These men bought eight acres of land in Allens Road and established a company called King Bros. For more than thirty years they would be the only market garden in Ashburton, providing fruit and vegetables for countless homes, meals and tables.

This was a time of local stores and home deliveries. The King Bros. sold vegetables straight from a shop close to where they grew on the property. They also delivered directly to homes and businesses from Hinds to Rakaia, using horse and cart. Later, in 1947 a fruit shop was opened in Bennett Street, Ashburton.

As the business grew, King Bros. produce was also taken to be sold in Christchurch, with the return voyage filled with more exotic, special or early produce for Ashburton supply.

The family prospered and following World War Two, more generations came to live in Ashburton, including a young Ng Yep Yen. Many locals will know Yep, and we are very pleased that he shared his family’s story with the museum. We now have a rich digital archive of images, plans of the King Bros. gardens, and a detailed family tree.

Yep’s stories have also led us to other sources of local Chinese history, and we recently received a small collection of artefacts from the gardens.

1. Three bottles recently donated to Ashburton Museum that came from the Chinese Settlement in Allens Road. Photographer Anita Badger.

Best of all, we have been able to add these stories to the portrait wall. Along with a photo of Yep, his extended family, historic and living, are now seen in a special collection of images.

These gifts help add to the foundations that enable us to build today’s portrait wall. Thanks Yep, and to all who have helped make this such a great community project.

By Tanya Zoe Robinson

Captions

    1. A young visitor to Ashburton Museum spots newcomer friends on the portrait wall. ©Ashburton Museum.
    2. A string of lanterns made by visitors to Ashburton Museum to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Photographer: Anita Badger.
    3. Richard Yee (left) and Young King (Yep’s father) in a 1957 parade re-enacting the days when King Bros. delivered produce by horse and cart.
    4. Three bottles recently donated to Ashburton Museum that came from the Chinese Settlement in Allens Road. Photographer: Anita Badger.

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