Mapping Brantford’s immigrant past and brokering our collective future.
Celeste Percy-Beauregard, March 06, 2023 // Brantford, Ontario Christina Han outside of Brant Museum and Archives. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
As Inaugural Director of Laurier University’s recently-developed Laurier Hub for Community Solutions (LHCS), Dr. Christina Han says she has been, “Very busy, and the kinds of projects that are coming to me are really interesting.”
The Hub, she explains, is “Almost like a brokerage and I'm a broker. Let's say, there's a professor who wants to work with a community partner. I go out and connect that faculty member with the community organization.” Community members who wish to work with faculty or students are also invited to bring proposals to Christina.
Some of the requests she receives are straightforward, such as finding a couple of guitar instructors for an afterschool arts program at a Neighbourhood Association. Others are more complex, like bringing together the City, the Provincial Offences Court Office (POA), and Laurier Law students to design the new POA space in One Market, which will also serve as a living lab for students. “So how do you create this space where people who are coming to trial, and students who are learning from this experience – and also the prosecutors and whatnot – can interact in a more human, welcoming, and caring way?” Christina asks.
The Hub officially launched in Spring of 2022, as a way to foster partnerships that were already happening between Brantford’s Laurier campus and members of the local community, as well as to encourage new ones. “The idea comes from the fact that the University is in the city, and the city is supporting the University, so we should work even better, and even more closely, to use the University's resources to benefit the city and the people that are living in the city – but also vice versa,” Christina says.
Christina discusses past projects and future plans with BTOWN. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
The City was the Hub’s first official partner, and early projects involved a Rink Report app, created by User Experience Design students to simplify community outdoor-rink maintenance for volunteers, and a study between Laurier’s Department of Criminology, York University, McMaster University and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to identify supports for helping young women transitioning out of homelessness.
“We also work with a lot of nonprofits that don't have money, and the Hub will try to help them find money for their needs, or try to find resources that they don't have to pay for,” Christina says, “If they need people to work for them, maybe we can integrate co-op or student placements.”
Christina’s genuine excitement about the projects that could help our community blossom is palpable, and she knows firsthand the alchemy of collaboration.
That’s because when she’s not directing the Hub, teaching World and Asian History at the University, curating exhibits at the ROM(!), or composing digitally – she’s making the track for a rapper at the moment – Christina is working on her own passion project, “Memories of Brantford.”
Artifacts and photographs lovingly curated by Christina at the “Laundries, Chopsticks, Medicine” exhibit. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
Using her historical expertise, she is tracking the lost immigrant histories of Brantford, in collaboration with Brant Theatre Workshops (BTW), the Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre (CIHC), Laurier Brantford, Brant Historical Society and The Brant County Museum.
When she initially moved from Toronto to Brantford ten years ago to accept a teaching position at Laurier, Christina didn’t observe much diversity in the city (although she notes things have changed since then.) However, after talking with some local historians, she learned Brantford was actually at one time, one of the most multicultural cities in Canada. “It just totally blew my mind,” she says, “And I began to learn about all these amazing immigrant communities that used to exist in Brantford.”
So far, the communities Christina and her collaborators have delved into, include Brantford’s lost Jewish Community (“Brantford used to have a really vibrant Jewish community – like 50% of downtown businesses were Jewish owned!” she says, “There was a big synagogue too, and then it closed down because [eventually] there weren’t enough Jewish people to keep that going.”) Next they explored the Italian community, and they are currently on their third exhibit, “Laundries, Chopsticks, Medicine,” which looks at contributions of Brantford’s original immigrant Chinese community.
More recent Chinese immigrants to Brantford attended the opening event, and Christina says, “They were blown away because they thought they were the earliest Chinese [here],” when in reality, in the late-1800’s and early-1900’s, downtown Brantford had 12 Chinese hand-laundries, three Chinese grocery stores, and multiple Chinese-owned upscale dining establishments.
Christina is passionate about local history and sharing with the community. Photo credit Photohouse Studio.
The events have drawn interest from CBC radio, locals, and folks from neighbouring cities – Jewish families with former ties to Brantford even travelled from as far as Ottawa to attend the first exhibit, something Christina attributes to the power of collaboration.
“It is my belief that the more diverse the partnership is, the greater the impact. And I think that's what makes this particular initiative successful, because it's not just a research project,” she says, “We do research, but we do an exhibit, a walking tour, we do community engagement, food, live events, a lecture, creating a big button event out of it, that's also educational.”
Through the lost images and stories Christina has uncovered of our city – one that today has shuttered downtown storefronts, that at one time held thriving Chinese and Jewish-run businesses – these exhibits are a reminder of what Brantford “Used to be and what it could be,” says Christina, and she will continue to help our city become its best version of itself through the projects in the Hub.
“Creating and building community. That's what I do,” she says, “And it's been really great. And I think Brantford has a lot of potential.”
To learn more about the Laurier Hub for Community Solutions, or to submit a project for consideration, visit their website HERE.
To learn more about the “Laundries, Chopsticks, Medicine” exhibit on display at Brant County Museum on Charlotte Street until March 22, or “Memories of Brantford,” visit their website HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Celeste Percy-Beauregard’s first form of storytelling was as an actor, and her eager curiosity and interest in a variety of subjects led her to writing. Her work has appeared in Toronto Star and Today’s Parent, and she is enjoying exploring Brantford and learning about the people and places that make it such a special city.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professionally for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner.
Thanks for this great article! to learn more about Christina’s Brantford Jewish history project, please see this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1J16qeDKnik