________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


From Harling Point.

Ling Chiu (Director). Selwyn Jacob (Producer). Graydon McCrea, Svend-Erik Eriksen & Rina Fraticelli (Executive Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2003.
40 min., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9103 038.

Subject Headings:
Chinese Canadians - British Columbia - History.
Cemeteries - British Columbia - History.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Regina Bandong.

***1/2 /4



Home for the traditional Chinese is the village of the father's origin. Home is where the bones of one's ancestors are buried and where one must return at death. Burial in a foreign land and separation from one's ancestors meant souls which could not rest, wandering spirits destined to be forever lost.

Nor was Canada always hospitable. Government legislation denied the immigrants even basic civil rights. In 1884, to make life bearable, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association or CCBA was formed to give Chinese immigrants a unified voice against injustice but railway workers and miners still died in accidents. Others still, ran out of time, growing old before they grew rich. Their deaths created an unexpected responsibility.

Edna Chow says, "My maternal grandfather's bones were sent back to China to the village and my grandmother regretted it. She was never able to get back to China to visit the grave. I don't believe in it myself, you know, I think they should let us stay here, stay in Canada."

Charlayne Thornton-Joe says, "My grandfather helped me understand who I am and just accept it. This Chinese cemetery reminds me of our past and gives me some guidance for the future. But it also connects me with the fact that these are my Chinese roots."

Edna Chow says, "My husband's side of the family was brought up with the traditional Chinese custom. But my side of the family were not, we were westernized. It was hard in the beginning."

"I loved being a young child growing in a Chinese community," Charlayne Thornton-Joe said. "But when I started school, my memories were filled with name calling, getting into fights. Those were times I didn't like myself, I didn't like my parents for making me be born Chinese. I wanted to be blonde and blue eyed. I wanted to get rid of everything that was to me Chinese. I did everything I could to not be Chinese."

Dr. David Cy Lai says, "The greatest irony is that in the 1920's and 30's the local residents claimed that the cemetery affected their urban development and land value. They wanted to get rid of the cemetery. But now, in contrast, the residents want to preserve it."

From Harling Point is a film about identity and inclusion, two forces that split but could simultaneously bind people to each other in life and death. Located in the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Harling Point Cemetery has become more than a rest stop for the Chinese pioneers of Canada. Many who left China to build a life of dignity and wealth never returned home at death. To them, Harling Point has become their refuge, a haven alongside their fellow men. For the living - succeeding generations of Chinese-Canadians - the cemetery is a living memorial of sacrifice to their ancestors. As for the residents of the Oak Bay community of British Columbia, Harling Point has become a two-sided exercise of the human condition, one that elicits misunderstanding and ignorance to justify wrong actions while the other encourages understanding and acceptance of other people's culture. Still, at the core of identity and inclusion lies the notion of home.

     Ling Chiu, the film's director, uses the cemetery as a reference point of place but also of identity politics. Archival photos of Chinese men, pioneers who lived lives of hardship void of basic civil rights, are exhibited to trace Harling Point's tumultuous history. Furthermore, amidst the unfurling tendrils of incense smoke and lit incense sticks, anecdotes from prominent Chinese are used to illustrate the hardships of the Chinese in the past. Then, from the present, candid interviews from two intergenerational Chinese-Canadian women further infuse the narrative.

     The personal accounts of two Canadian-Chinese women rivet viewers to the screen. Charlayne Thornton-Joe, immersed into the Chinese culture at birth, recounts her regret for abandoning her heritage in order to fit in. After much soul-searching, she credits her grandfather, who is buried at Harling Point, for helping her to accept and embrace her Chinese ancestry. Edna Chow, on the contrary, assimilated into the world of Canadian society in childhood and views Harling Point as her initial immersion into her heritage. Unlike, Thornton-Joe, however, Edna Chow has chosen to keep her Chinese culture at a distance.

     On another level, the film also exposes the consequence of human actions. Harling Point, as a National Heritage Site, attests to the daily struggles of people finding a place to belong whether immigrant or native born. For the Oak Bay residents, Harling Point has become a bittersweet lesson of acceptance. Due to their pursuit to preserve their own interests of home and identity, they have returned much to the Chinese. More than a Chinese cemetery, Harling Point has been transformed into a place of inclusion regardless of race and religion.

     From Harling Point is a good addition to any multicultural studies, topic or curriculum. Whether to uncover the history and mistreatment of Chinese immigrants in Canada or to learn more about one's Chinese heritage, this film encompasses and explores the complex subject of identity and inclusion where, at its most basic level, lies the notion of home.

Highly Recommended.

Living near Vancouver, BC, Regina Bandong is an entrepreneur and a freelance writer.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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