Collection RBSC-ARC-1838 - The Paper Trail collection

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Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

The Paper Trail collection

General material designation

  • Records in electronic form

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Physical description area

Physical description

537 textual records (tiff, jpg, pdf)
0.5 cm of textual records

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Archival description area

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Administrative history

The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act was conceived in 2020 by community curator and exhibition designer, Catherine B. Clement, to commemorate one hundred years of the passing of Canada’s Chinese Exclusion Act. The community-based project has two components: first, a national, year-long exhibition opening July 1st, 2023 in Vancouver’s Chinatown; secondly, a community archive of the Chinese Immigration (C.I.) certificates issued to implement the Chinese Immigration Act (1885-1947), within which the 1923 Exclusion Act was a significant amendment and dark turn.

Project values include paying tribute to those who lived through this period, preserving documentary evidence and oral history, educating new generations, and public telling of this collective story. The project prioritized community participation through the “crowdsourcing” of family histories and archival documents from across every province.

The methodology of community collection was adapted by Clement from her previous ten-year research project, Chinatown Through a Wide Lens: The Hidden Photographs of Yucho Chow, that was coming to a close. Many families who had contributed photos from their private family collections also had Chinese Immigration certificates in their custody. Original C.I. certificates were identified, borrowed, digitized, and returned to families, while helping members interpret the records. Family history was also collected as important context to understanding the records and remembering certificate subjects.

In 2020, the project team expanded its capacity for identifying and digitizing certificates through a volunteer scanning network with locations established in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, and St. John’s. In 2021, the team worked with Library and Archives Canada to have previously restricted Chinese Immigration records opened and made accessible, namely, C.I.44 forms related to the registration of all Chinese in Canada required by Section 18 of the Exclusion Act.

In 2022, the project pursued collection of oral history interviews and digital content creation in complement to concept development, design and outreach of the exhibition. The project will launch on Canada Day, July 1st, 2023 as an exhibition at the Chinese Canadian Museum of British Columbia based in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Custodial history

Certificates (Series S1) were in the custody of families and organizations until they were loaned and scanned by Catherine B. Clement for inclusion in the 2023 project, The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act. The original certificates were subsequently returned to their owners. A donation of the digital surrogates to the UBC Library occurred in 2022.

Scope and content

Collection consists of records collected by Catherine B. Clement towards her research project on the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act that will mount a 100th year commemorative exhibition in 2023. The collection includes Chinese Immigration and other registration and identification certificates contributed by individuals, families and organizations across Canada.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

All records were acquired directly from The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act project team.


Archivist has maintained the collector/curator's arrangement.

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Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Use of certificates in Series 1 (Registration and identification certificates series) is restricted to research, private study and educational purposes based on donor agreement. Reproduction for exhibition, publication or commercial use requires permission from the family or organization that donated the certificate. Please see archivist for details.

Preferred citation: The Paper Trail collection (RBSC-ARC-1838), UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

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Further accruals are expected to Series 1 (Registration and identification certificates series).
Further accruals are expected as additional series.

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Description created by June Chow in August 2022.

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