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"Granny Yip"

For the week of Monday April 7, 2014

On April 10, 1949, Nellie Yip Quong (née Towers) died. Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, on March 12, 1882, she grew up to be an important social activist and community figure for the Chinese population in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Nellie and Charles Yip Quong
© Mrs. Eleanor (Yip) Lum Archives
Nellie went to a private school in the eastern United States, and this education enabled her to find work teaching English in New York City. There she met Charles Yip Quong, a widowed jewellery store owner from Vancouver whom she married. At this time, interracial marriages were socially unacceptable and Nellie became isolated from her family and the Catholic Church. After spending some time in the United States and Canada, the couple moved to Christian Church Village in Toi Shan province in China and while there, Nellie learned Cantonese and four regional dialects.

Upon their return to Vancouver around 1904, Nellie established herself as an invaluable member of the city’s Chinatown. She had trained as a midwife, and put these skills to use for the Chinese community by helping to deliver about 500 babies. Nellie also facilitated adoptions and provided foster care for many children, adopting a baby girl, Eleanor, when she was 46.

Nellie as the English secretary of the Empire Ladies Reform Association
© Chinese in North America Research Committee

She further helped the inhabitants of Chinatown by serving as an interpreter for immigrants who had to face Canadian officials. In one case, she helped an injured worker get payment from the Workmen’s Compensation Board. Nellie’s activism contributed to ending the practice of placing Asian-Canadian, African-Canadian, and First Nation patients in the basement of the Vancouver General Hospital. Furthermore, she participated in several community groups, including the Chinese Benevolent Association.

During a time when Chinese-Canadians faced discrimination, Nellie served as a great ally of Vancouver’s Chinatown until her death in 1949. For her services as midwife, interpreter, and activist, Nellie Yip Quong was designated a National Historic Person. The neighbourhood in which she lived, Vancouver’s Chinatown, has also been commemorated as a National Historic Site.

To read about Chinatowns in Canada, follow the links to Vancouver's Chinatown: a vibrant neighbourhood! and Victoria's Chinatown: Not Enough Women. To learn more about experiences of the Chinese-Canadian community, please see: Toward A Better Future, Legalizing Racism, and Commemorating Chinese Railroad Workers.

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