City of Vancouver honors visionary advocate for immigrants Lilian To

By , on July 24, 2016

Lilian To Way, Vancouver plaque unveiling

Vancouver – In recognition of Lilian To’s lifetime commitment in promoting multicultural harmony in the community and supporting the newcomers in Vancouver, the City of Vancouver has designated Shanghai Alley as Lilian To Way, the very first street moniker in Vancouver named after a Chinese Canadian.

Lilian To Way is marked by two street monikers and a bi-lingual commemorative plaque on the façade of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Social Service Centre at 28 West Pender Street. Joined by Lilian To’s family and S.U.C.C.E.S.S., Mayor Gregor Robertson today unveiled the street monikers and the plaque.

“Ms. To was a dedicated and tireless advocate for the rights, responsibilities and benefits of newcomers to the City of Vancouver. I am delighted to name Lilian To Way as a tribute and testament to Ms. To’s achievements in building a more equal and inclusive Vancouver, and creating mutual understanding and respect for all residents in our city,” Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver said.

Born in Guangdong, China, and raised in Hong Kong, Lilian is the late CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. She immigrated to Vancouver in 1974 and worked for S.U.C.C.E.S.S. for two years. In 1987, Lilian rejoined the organization as executive director and then chief executive officer.

Lilian was a trailblazer in advocating for the rights and responsibilities of immigrants. Under her leadership, Lilian expanded the services of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. from a basic immigrant agency that served only Chinese to a multi-service and multilingual organization serving people in Metro Vancouver.

“Lilian is an immigrant settlement service pioneer and a visionary advocate. We were extremely fortunate to have had Lilian. She gave her best to lead S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Her sincerity and humility moved all who worked with her. She was well known in the immigrant community across the country. Her dedication continues to be an inspiration to all of us,” Maggie Ip, Founding chair and patron of S.U.C.C.E.S.S. said.

Her commitment to giving those in need of social and health services led to building S.U.C.C.E.S.S.’s Social Service Centre – Dr. Dorothy Lam Building, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Simon K.Y. Lee Seniors Care Home and Chieng’s Adult Day Centre, and operation of the Harmony House Assisted Living Residence along Shanghai Alley, the birthplace of Vancouver’s Chinatown.

“Our family is humbled by the continued advocacy of Maggie Ip, the founding chair of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., the Board of Directors of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., and those in the Chinese community in pursuing the honouring of our wife and mom. Lilian cared deeply for new immigrants, having been one herself, and identified with their ongoing struggles to survive in a new land while aspiring to be contributing citizens of our wonderful country,” Daniel To, son of Lilian To said.

We thank the City of Vancouver for this great honour and hope this plaque and the future naming of the street will inspire others to continue in the important work of lending much needed assistance to vulnerable populations,” he added.

Unfortunately, Lilian passed away on July 2, 2005 at the age of 59.


Lilian To (1945-2005)

Lilian To

Lilian was born on November 1, 1945 in Southern China.

Since her young age, she had been passionate about public service and believed an education in social work would provide her with a strong foundation. Lilian received her Honour’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Hong Kong in 1967 and a Diploma in Social Work in 1968. After graduating, Lilian began her lifetime contributions to public service, starting at the Social Welfare Department in the Hong Kong government. Lilian immigrated to Canada in 1974 and she received her Master of Social Work from the University of British Columbia in 1979.

Lilian first joined S.U.C.C.E.S.S. in 1974 as a community worker. She left S.U.C.C.E.S.S. after two years due to funding constraints but continued to serve the community at other organizations including the Vancouver School Board, Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, MOSAIC, and Pearson Hospital. From 1978 to 1987, Lilian worked at the Langley Mental Health Centre as a social worker and helped create numerous innovative programs such as the Langley In-Service Education Committee, Langley Hospice Society, and Langley Adult Day Care Society.

In 1988, Lilian rejoined S.U.C.C.E.S.S. as executive director and then chief executive officer. She was a trailblazer in advocating for the rights and benefits of immigrants and spoke passionately about the cause whether it was with local community partners or government officials in Victoria and Ottawa. She was always available to provide her leadership to deal with issues and was famous for being ‘everywhere’ – be it a fire in a Richmond apartment, a robbery at the Vancouver International Airport, or aiding hundreds of boat people who arrived off the coast of British Columbia. With her signature humility, Lilian credited others for her many accomplishments. She believed the collective efforts of many would bring about positive social change.

S.U.C.C.E.S.S. expanded enormously under Lilian’s leadership, dedication and passion. She worked tirelessly to promote volunteerism, raise donations, and secure government funding. In less than 17 years, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. grew into one of the largest social service agencies in British Columbia. S.U.C.C.E.S.S. evolved from primarily serving Chinese immigrants into an organization that provides services to immigrants from all backgrounds. Lilian had a vision of multicultural harmony and also promoted a holistic and integrated service approach to ensure the well-being of all new Canadians for years to come. Her contributions were not only to S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and the immigrant community but Canadian society as a whole. Some of Lilian’s legacies include the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Social Service Centre, Simon K. Y. Lee Seniors Care Home, Chieng’s Adult Day Centre, operation of the Harmony House Assisted Living Residence, international accreditation, and service expansion such as the airport reception service for new immigrants inside Vancouver International Airport and the launch of employment programs.

Over her lifetime, Lilian received many awards for her contributions including the Courvoisier Leadership Ward for Public Service, Distinguished Service Award for Public Service from Vancouver Multicultural Society, the Canada 125th Anniversary Confederation Medal, the Women of Distinction Award, and the Citation for Citizenship Award from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. She has been recognized as one of the most influential people in British Columbia by the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Magazine respectively. Her husband and two sons shared her goals and gave her the support and encouragement to devote her energy to public service.


About S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
Established in 1973, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. is one of the biggest social service agencies in British Columbia. It is a charitable organization providing services in settlement, language training, employment, family and youth counseling, business and economic development, seniors care, housing and community development. For more details, please visit: