Officials want to honour a 21-year-old Kamloops man who fought and died in what many call a pivotal WWI battle.
A Chinese-Canadian soldier named Frederick Lee survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge but was killed in the Battle of Hill 70. Now, on the battle's 100 year anniversary, historians are pushing to name part of the memorial after him.
The Hill 70 memorial officially opens on August 22 and is built on the battle site near Loos, France. The site has officially been given to Canada by France, according to historian Rob Baxter.
On Lee's WWI documents, it says he was born in Kamloops and was a farmer by trade. Lee volunteered to fight for the Canadian Army in 1916 and was killed in action on August 21,1917.
Records also show that Lee had a brother named Thomas William Lee, who was a Chase resident. The only known photograph of Lee was discovered on June 21, 2017 and is credited to Norman Lee. Lee's parents were from Sun Wai, China.
Baxter argues Lee's role in the Battle of Hill 70 was remarkable because he volunteered to fight before conscription.
"Initially Chinese-Canadians were excluded in the draft. The powers that were didn't want them in the war," Baxter says. "They went for the best reasons. They wanted to defend Canada and they felt they were Canadian. They proved to be extraordinary soldiers."
In a time fraught with discrimination and racism, Lee volunteered to fight for Canada and according to Baxter, that's why the push to name a walkway in the memorial after him is so important.
"As a multi-generational Chinese-Canadian I understand why he'd do this," project organizer Jack Gin says. "Thankfully my kids and grandkids don't have to be subjected to the racism my grandfather, father and to a tiny extent, what I had to go through."
Gin and historians want to find out who Lee was and hopefully track down his descendants. He says Lee's family deserves to know about his sacrifice and should be aware of the memorial.
"How could a farm boy, born from Chinese parents take a call to action and go to a foreign land to participate in the emergence of Canada as a nation, then basically get forgotten? He's gone, he doesn't have a grave," Gin says. "It's outstanding that 100 years later, his name could literally be etched in stone on the site where he died."
Gin says to many, Lee is a symbol of the work and toil of the early Chinese.
"For the Chinese community he's a lost son. From Kamloops' point of view, he's a lost son and one of yours. He was unknown and recognized, until now," Gin says.
The proposed walkway in Lee's honour is estimated to cost $1.5 million and Baxter, Gin and others are heading a fundraising effort to back the project.
Baxter says this project is vital to Canadian history because until now, Lee's story was untold.
"This story is so compelling because it isn't written down in Canadian history books. We are telling parts of WWI history to Canadians who may have never heard it before," Baxter says.
For more information on the Hill 70 Project, visit the website.
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