Published in The Peak on November 5, 2012
Read online at www.the-peak.ca

The Peak is Simon Fraser University’s student newspaper, published since 1965 and distributed free weekly. This article reported the recent addition to Vancouver’s literary landscape by Project Bookmark Canada.

Project Bookmark Canada marks first literary locations west of Ontario
Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony is commemorated with dual-language plaque in Chinatown.

It is probably every young Harry Potter fan’s dream to go to London and see Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, the filming locations for Gringotts Bank, or the castle that inspired Hogwarts. In major cities across the world, readers delight in such literary landmarks, but few are noted on-site. That’s where author Miranda Hill got the idea for Project Bookmark.

“Our goal is to put text from stories and poems in the exact physical location where literary scenes take place,” explains Hill, founder and executive director of the national charity Project Bookmark Canada.

The first bookmark was placed in 2009 in Toronto from Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. Earlier this year they placed their first bookmark outside of Ontario, plaque #11 in Woody Point, Newfoundland, and in October, Project Bookmark reached Western Canada with bookmark #12. On Oct. 15, 2012, two bookmarks were unveiled side-by-side in Vancouver’s Chinatown, with a passage from Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony. On the left, the passage is written in Mandarin, and on the right, in English; this is Project Bookmark’s first dual-language plaque.

The Jade Peony was Wayson Choy’s first novel, and has received many accolades since being published in 1995 by Douglas & McIntyre. From the perspective of three young children, each taking turns to narrate the novel, we discover Vancouver’s Chinatown as it was in the 30s and 40s, a difficult time to be a Chinese immigrant. The novel chronicles life, death, sex, love, hate, from a variety of viewpoints, mixing reality and fantasy, fact and fiction.

The evening before the plaque unveiling, several organizations banded together to hold a fundraising tribute dinner for Wayson Choy. Organized in three short weeks through the joint effort of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop, Historic Joy Kogawa House Society, the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, explorASIAN, and Gung Haggis Fat Choy, the evening featured dinner, speakers, multimedia, and a prize draw. The money raised went to Project Bookmark Canada, to fund the plaques since they are poster-sized ceramic installations cemented into the ground where the literary scene takes place, are not only expensive to produce, but doubly so for the dual-language Vancouver bookmark.

At the dinner and during the unveiling the day after, Choy expressed how humbled and honoured he was to have all these people supporting him and the literary arts in Canada.

“Go buy the book,” he joked, “you don’t even have to read it.” However, we know that many Canadians and Vancouverites already have, as The Jade Peony won the 1996 City of Vancouver Book Award, was the inaugural selection for the Vancouver Public Library’s One Book One Vancouver, and one of the contenders for CBC Canada Reads 2010.

On the corner of Pender and Gore, during the unveiling for The Jade Peony’s bookmark, Hill noted how she runs the organization out of their family attic, but when the planning for the Vancouver bookmark began, she felt like she had a huge team behind her. Hal Wake from the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival, and Anna Ling Kaye from PRISM international and the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop were two of her biggest supporters. Kaye read The Jade Peony passage in Mandarin and honoured author Wayson Choy read the passage in English.

Maybe, as Hill hopes, someone will stumble upon one of the dozen literary bookmarks placed so far and feel compelled to seek out the book.