Fonds RBSC-ARC-1153 - Won Alexander Cumyow fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Won Alexander Cumyow fonds

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on contents of fonds.

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Physical description area

Physical description

16 cm of textual records; 82 photographs

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Won Alexander Cumyow is the first Chinese person recorded as being born in Canada, on February 14, 1861 in Port Douglas, B .C., located at the north end of Harrison Lake. Cumyow's parents had immigrated there from Canton (Guangzhou) and his father operated a business outfitting miners on their way to the Cariboo.

In addition to Chinese and English, Cumyow learned to speak Chinook which would prove useful in his future career. The family later moved to New Westminster, where Cumyow was educated in law and appointed court interpreter in 1888. He gained prominence as a merchant, community leader, and official Court Interpreter for the Vancouver City Police (1904-1936), and was involved with several groups, including the Chinese Empire Reform Association.

He married in 1889 and had ten children, including four sons and six daughters. His son, Gordon, succeeded him as Court Interpreter. He was the only Chinese person to have voted both before and after the Chinese were disenfranchised from voting, as recorded in a 1949 photo of an elderly Cumyow casting an election ballot.

Custodial history

Scope and content

The fonds consists of correspondence, journals, scrapbooks, photographs, diplomas, certificates and reference and printed materials relating to Cumyow's activities and interests among the Chinese-Canadian community of Vancouver. The activities of his family are also reflected in the fonds.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

The majority of material in this fonds was donated to the University of British Columbia by Mrs . Hilda Cumyow, daughter-in-law of Won Alexander Cumyow, in 1975 and 1980, with some additional material donated by Aileen Cumyow in 1990 .


The arrangement of the fonds generally follows the arrangement according to material type established by George Brandak in 1975.
Original identifier scheme for photographs (BC1848/XX) has been replaced with current scheme (RBSC-ARC-1153-PH-XX) as part of rehousing work done in July 2019. Original identifiers listed in general note field of associated items.

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Some material in Chinese.

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No restrictions on access.

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No further accruals are expected.

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

Items re-housed and finding aid updated in the months of October and November of 2015 by student archivist, Dennis Michailides and in July 2019 by Jacky Lai. One item originally donated with the fonds is missing, presumably due to the disrepair of their original boxes. The missing item is BC1848/64 "Brothers Joe and Frank in front of New Westminster, general store". At any such time that the item is relocated, the finding aid will be updated to include the descriptions.

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