Greenwood Museum manager Doreen MacLean shows off the new Hop Sing Laundry exhibit on July 4. There were several Chinese-owned laundry businesses in Greenwood around 1900, MacLean said, but racist attitudes barred them from operating on Copper Street and from advertising in the newspaper. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Greenwood Museum debuts new Chinese laundry exhibit

The new exhibit reflects a staple business of the city from more than 100 years ago

There’s a new laundry facility in Greenwood, tucked away off Copper Street and Deadwood. Inside, former mayor Robert Wood’s laundry sits folded and ready for pick-up. The Hop Sing Laundry is the Greenwood Museum’s latest major addition to its displays of the city’s boomtown era.

The idea to feature a Chinese laundry was pushed forward after a volunteer heard at a B.C. museums conference in Trail that the history of people of Chinese descent was under-represented through the Kootenay Boundary region, museum manager Doreen MacLean said, adding that there was an actual “Hop Sing Laundry” in Greenwood around the early part of the 20th Century. The lack of representation, MacLean explained, does not mesh with the actual demographics of the region. The museum has census data from 1881 to 1921 that shows many Chinese people moved and settled in the area around and after the gold rush in Rock Creek. (Were it not for COVID-19, the records would be accessible for the public to flip through).

So, in a wooden room built from boards donated to the museum from a historic Boundary ranch, a man is positioned to work in his business, doing the laundry of other Greenwood residents around the turn of the century. Lever Brothers soap was the go-to tool of the day, MacLean said, and she is looking to get

MacLean said that there were several Chinese laundry businesses in Greenwood around 1900, but none were on Copper Street. There were forced to open on Gold Street, she said, in order to leave the main drag open to white-owned businesses. Their customers too, MacLean said, would have had to discover them by happenstance or word of mouth; Chinese businesses were apparently not allowed to advertise in the local newspaper, The Boundary Creek Times, which was openly racist about the laundries.

In the July 25, 1900 edition of the Times, an article reads that, “After August 1st there will be no excuse for patronizing Chinese laundries in the city,” because a white-owned business was readying to open. In that same edition, businessman C.J. McArthur is reported to have said at a city meeting on “The Chinese question” that he “was prepared to do everything in his power to rid the city of the Chinese by peaceful means.” Mayor Thomas Jackson Hardy (seemingly endorsed by the writer of the story) proposed a boycott of any business that sold goods to people of Chinese descent. Regulating Chinese-owned laundries was also put forward as a way to push people out of business, and ultimately out of town.

But now the Greenwood Museum is putting the laundry on prominent display, ready to welcome its summer visitors. Traffic, however, has been impacted by COVID-19. Not only did the museum open two months later than usual, which meant losing revenue from school trips, but bus tours slated to stop in the summer have cancelled as well.

The cuts to revenue mean that the museum has eased off on purchasing items for the gift shop and in ordering books in bulk. COVID-19 has also meant that the visitors who do stop in won’t be able to flip through albums normally on display – it would just be too much clean, McLean said.

The museum, which doubles as an official BC Visitor Centre, has so far seen upwards of 80 travellers stop in since it opened on July 1. Many have come from the Lower Mainland, while MacLean says that some have come from Alberta, and a few from the U.S. as well.

For everyone that comes through, staff will be there to greet them with hand sanitizer and information, while a fake mouse will stay put under a table in the laundry – a hidden item on a scavenger hunt designed for kids.

Related: Kettle River Museum closed for season


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