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Alan Yuen – Looking Back at ICA’s 50 Years

The year was 1971. Underneath the soaring canopy of Crystal Gardens in downtown Victoria, Alan Yuen was helping set up a stall selling chow mein and fried rice to raise money for his local Chinatown Lion’s Club. On the other side of the event space, he couldn’t ignore the loud music and a few dozen people dancing.

 

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Little did Alan know that this hubbub down the hall would become a part of his life for over twenty years. The event down the hall was actually Victoria’s first FolkFest, hosted by the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria.

For those who don’t know, FolkFest was an annual event focused on celebrating multiculturalism in Canada. Different cultural groups would host kiosks, share performances and offer food to the public.

Through his work in the Chinese-Canadian community, Alan would eventually join the ICA’s Board of Directors in 1977, which was responsible for organizing Folk Fest. He became President of the Board from 1985 until 1995. His hard work expanded FolkFest from its humble beginnings to a Victoria staple attended by tens of thousands.

The event would outgrow Crystal Gardens in 1974, before moving to Centennial Square and eventually the Inner Harbour before its final curtain call in 2006. In its early incarnation, the event hosted kiosks from Scottish, Dutch, Ukrainian, German, Chinese, and Polish community members. Over time, the roster would expand to encompass an even broader representation of Victoria’s diversity.

“On a summer night, it was the best place to be in town,” remembers Alan.

Beyond a feel-good festival, the event was an important platform for minorities in Canada to raise their profile within the community. “Minorities had a hard time being recognized,” said Alan. “FolkFest helped open the eyes of the community and introduce people to the world in their own city.”

Being a third generation Chinese-Canadian, Alan is no stranger to feeling outside dominant Canadian culture. His grandfather came to Canada in the early 1900s, and his father was born in Victoria shortly after. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, his father was not able to get citizenship, despite being born in Canada. He moved to China to get married and start his family. While Alan was born in Hong Kong, his family eventually relocated to Victoria in 1957.

“When I moved here from Hong Kong as a child, I had just a few relatives, no friends. For the first 2 years, I was really lonely,” he remembers. By joining ICA’s Board, Alan was grateful to be able to contribute to other people in situations like his.

Beyond FolkFest, Alan and the Board of Directors helped establish many of the ICA’s founding programs. In 1978, ICA was asked by the federal government to support refugees from Viet Nam with a plethora of new programs, from English classes to settlement orientations. This was the start of ICA becoming a settlement agency and moving beyond FolkFest.

“I’m really proud of being a part of ICA, especially from the early days,” says Alan. “I’ve watched ICA grow from a little organization without much financial means. We did a good job and started getting recognized for it.” Alan is most proud of the organization being a voice for not only immigrants and refugees, but the community as a whole.

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