Few in this country know the story of George Leslie Mackay, a 19th-century Canadian Presbyterian missionary who spent the last 30 years of his life in Taiwan.
But according to Cecilia Chueh, CEO of the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society, Mackay remains one of that country's most revered westerners. This is the case even now, 116 years after his death.
"He established more than 150 churches there," Chueh told the Georgia Straight in an interview at the society's Vancouver centre on Selkirk Street. "He also founded schools, including the first Taiwanese girls school, and also a hospital."
According to Chueh, one of those students was a future president, Lee Teng-hui, and schools founded by Mackay educated many other members of Taiwan's elite.
"He was a hero in Taiwan—145 years later, people remember him," Chueh stated. "That's why many Taiwanese people feel more close to Canada."
At 8 p.m. on Thursday (June 8), the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society will celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary with a free screening of Mackay: The Black Bearded Bible Man, which tells the story of the Ontario clergyman who irrevocably changed Taiwan.
Mackay married a Taiwanese woman, Minnie Mackay, and the couple had three children. Their story was featured in the world's first Taiwanese-English opera, also called Mackay: The Black Bearded Bible Man, which premiered in 2008 at Taiwan's national theatre.
"His wife reached out to the women," Chueh said. "That's how he established the first women's school in Taiwan. So that really influenced so many people."
Chueh also stated that that her grandfather was a student at a Mackay-founded school and became a Presbyterian minister. This is one reason why Mackay's story has touched her so deeply.
"This is a very special presentation to remember a friendship—the relationship—between Canada and Taiwan for the last 145 years," Chueh stated.
Mackay: The Black Bearded Bible Man is part of the 11th annual Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival and will be shown a day before the other screenings, which run from Friday to Sunday (June 9 to 11) at the Vancity Theatre.
The festival was established in 2007 by a student group, UBC Literature Etc., and the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society is a copresenter. It's also supported by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver.