“Someone once told me: in Saskatchewan, every town has a Chinese restaurant and a story,” narrates director Weiye Su in A Passage Beyond Fortune. The short documentary, released today by the National Film Board of Canada, begins with a strange story that Su encounters in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He learns of a tourist attraction that tells of an underground network of tunnels. Signs and tours advertise a rare chance to see underground dwellings in which Chinese-Canadians were forced to live after settling in Canada. However, after speaking with Chinese-Canadian elders in Moose Jaw like Gale and Myrna Chow, he learns that this “history” is nothing more than an urban legend. At best, there’s an old staircase leading to a basement laundromat.
What A Passage Beyond Fortune sees in this sensationalized myth, though, is a stirring metaphor for the hidden histories that reside in each city. Su sits down with the Chow family and learns about Gale and Myrna’s early years in Canada. They tell of the struggle to build a family and create a life when Canada had exclusionary laws that directly impacted Chinese immigrants. Moreover, making a family was no easy task since the laws created a “bachelor society” in which men who’d arrived previously had few options to marry when the number of women permitted to enter Canada was highly restricted. Gale, meanwhile, tells of the fragmentation of his own family during this time, which pains him to this day. As the Chows share their story with Su and their children, they illustrate how bringing generations of history into Moose Jaw was no small feat.
Su looks beyond the mythic tunnels and sees how every Canadian town indeed has a Chinese restaurant and a story. As he observes celebrations for the Lunar New Year, and community gatherings filled with roast ducks and music, he observes the stories that exist all over Canada, but aren’t properly represented. He ends the film by wondering what the future holds for the next generation. It’s an optimistic note that hopes that histories won’t be relegated to myths that never existed.
Watch A Passage Beyond Fortune today from the NFB:
A Passage Beyond Fortune, Weiye Su, provided by the National Film Board of Canada