Relics of Love and War
(Canada, 40 min.)
Dir. Keith Lock
It can be a difficult exercise for Chinese Canadians to learn about our history, particularly those whose families arrived in Canada in the early 1900s under the Chinese Exclusion Act. Our education system doesn’t afford much space to this part of Canadian history and, if one couples this fact with the Chinese penchant for avoiding discussion of tough times, lots of questions remain unanswered.
Canadian filmmaker Keith Lock retraces the history of his family upon discovering old photographs of his mom and dad. Told through these photos and archival footage, Relics of Love and War reveals a story of love, perseverance, and survival. Through the short film and Lock’s family, we come to understand a history that connects China, Canada, and Australia. While the story is specific to Lock, it’s one to which Chinese Canadians across the country will undoubtedly connect.
Towards the end of the film, talking head interviews are used to catch up with the descendants of subjects discovered earlier in the film. But for the vast majority of the film, Lock narrates the story with pictures flipping across the screen. Admittedly, Lock’s narration takes some getting used to. It has a slightly robotic tone, not dissimilar to the auto-generated voice that dictates text in TikTok videos. But taking a step back, that delivery lends an interesting texture to the film.
One of the most striking artifacts uncovered is a newspaper clipping from the Toronto Star in 1909 proclaiming: “Chinese woman comes to Toronto.” A photo of Lock’s grandmother accompanies the article, and Lock explains the rarity of Chinese women in the city at that time. A headline that naturally evokes shock and awe today, Lock’s steeled voice grounds the article as matter-of-fact — this is simply what life was like for the Chinese in Toronto at the turn of the century.
Through Relics of Love and War, Lock provides an educational tool (and perhaps even some gentle encouragement) for Chinese Canadians to better understand the immigration patterns of our community. Beyond this, the film acts as a personal essay for Lock, a man whose family can trace its heritage back over 100 years. Relics of Love and War makes clear the contributions made by those early immigrants to the Canadian war efforts, economy and culture, impressing upon us their significance to Canada’s development and rightful place in history books across the country.