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Brandon prof wins William Norrie prize

Volunteer award for longtime supporter of Chinese community

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A university professor is being recognized for her many contributions to Manitoba’s Chinese community.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/08/2021 (546 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A university professor is being recognized for her many contributions to Manitoba’s Chinese community.

Alison Marshall, who teaches Asian history and religion at Brandon University, is this year’s recipient of the William Norrie Arts & Culture Volunteer Award. Named after Winnipeg’s 39th mayor and presented by Volunteer Manitoba, the award honours volunteers in the arts and cultural sector.

“I am thrilled to receive this award, especially since Bill Norrie was a longtime supporter of, and friend to, the Manitoba Chinese community,” Marshall says.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Prof. Alison Marshall, who volunteers her time in a variety of capacities with Manitoba’s Chinese community, is receiving the William Norrie Arts & Culture Volunteer Award.

Born and raised in Ontario, Marshall moved to Manitoba in 2000. She started volunteering with the province’s Chinese community eight years later, while working on her first book, The Way of the Bachelor: Early Chinese Settlement in Manitoba.

Marshall credits her family with her interest in Asian studies. One of her great-uncles ran an Asian import-export business in 1920s Montreal, so her childhood home was filled with carpets, lamps, photos and landscape paintings from Asia. Her grandmothers travelled to China and Japan, and she had an aunt who worked for Toronto’s Chinese community.

During university, Marshall took a course in Mandarin. She did well and started winning scholarships; it became apparent she wanted to study Asian history and religion.

“I really like the people,” she says. “That’s ultimately why I volunteer: I really like the people.”

During the past 13 years, Marshall has been involved in numerous projects dedicated to documenting the history of Chinese Canadians on the Prairies.

She serves on the board of directors at the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre and gives tours of Chinatown. Additionally, she has advised organizations such as the Manitoba Museum and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights when they have questions about the history of Chinatown and Chinese Canadians.

Today, Marshall spends anywhere from two to 20 hours each week volunteering. In addition to her love for connecting with people, Marshall is motivated by the admiration she has for the people who have entrusted their stories to her.

She points to one project she worked on, which detailed Sun Yat-sen’s visit to southern Manitoba in 1911, as one example. Sun is considered to be the father of modern China. His visit had a profound influence on Chinese immigrants in places like Carberry and Brandon at a time when they faced many challenges, including discrimination.

“I admire them, I respect them, I feel I owe them because they trusted me with these stories,” she says. “They had no reason to trust me, a stranger. I do this because I sort of feel it’s my duty. I’ve got to give back.”

It’s that dedication that led Ben Lee, president of the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre, to nominate Marshall for the award.

“She’s just really, really amazing and wonderful to work with,” Lee says. “She’s able to really find a lot of the rich history about Chinatown and put it together in writing in a way that we’ll cherish for years to come.”

Marshall will be honoured alongside more than 30 others when Volunteer Manitoba and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries hold the annual awards celebration virtually on Sept. 23. A full list of this year’s recipients is available at volunteermanitoba.ca.

In the meantime, Marshall hopes people visit Chinatown now that the government is starting to ease pandemic restrictions.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Chinatown come to life again,” she says. “There are good things to come.”

If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com.

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