Eunice Lowe Award for Entrepreneurship Studies

Eunice Lowe is a prominent Victoria resident and businesswoman. For over three decades, Eunice was the owner and director of the Stephen Lowe Art Gallery, initially located in the Empress Hotel before becoming the marquee tenant of the Victoria Conference Centre.

Under Eunice’s vision and guidance, the Stephen Lowe Art Gallery was a prime destination for discerning art patrons from all over the world. Since closing the Gallery and retiring in 2005, Eunice has continued to advance the artistic legacy of Stephen Lowe, her late husband, and maintained her dedication to fostering a bridge between Chinese and western cultures through Stephen’s art.

While Stephen Lowe’s Chinese watercolour paintings and the success of the Gallery have been well chronicled and celebrated, the story behind Eunice’s journey is less known. It is a remarkable story of determination and resiliency. 

Eunice was born in 1940 in a rural village in Guangzhou, China. Her parents were unskilled laborers. Against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion and prolonged drought in the region life was hard, particularly for Eunice as the oldest of six children.  From an early age, Eunice understood the value of education. While tuition for elementary school was out of reach for her parents, Eunice raised the funds herself by doing menial tasks around the village. She ultimately completed six grades in four years.  At nineteen years old, she met and fell in love with Stephen Lowe, a young aspiring artist who was studying Chinese watercolour painting. The young couple married and emigrated to Victoria in 1960 to start a new life.

Everything about life in Victoria was foreign to Eunice. Stephen was the family breadwinner, eventually leaving his housekeeping job at the Union Club to open his eponymous gallery in the Empress Hotel. Eunice remained at home and devoted herself to raising their three young children.  Just as Stephen’s artistic career was gaining momentum, he died tragically from a rare form of lymphoma in 1975. At 35 years old, Eunice was widowed with three children aged 11, 12 and 14. The grief and sense of loss was overwhelming. And the survival of her family was in jeopardy.

Well-meaning friends and family urged Eunice to close the Gallery and seek any form of employment she could find, recognizing she did not have any real marketable skills and barely spoke English. Eunice knew she needed to find a way to provide for her family but she also felt compelled to preserve and perpetuate Stephen’s legacy. Refusing to be defined by her circumstances, Eunice chose to carry on with the Gallery. The learning curve was steep. Eunice had to teach herself all the fundamentals of running a business such as bookkeeping, inventory and cashflow management, and filing income tax returns. But the most existential issue she had to tackle was revenue generation. With Stephen’s passing, she wanted to keep the few remaining paintings in her possession. Through her resourcefulness and ingenuity, Eunice mapped out a plan to commercialize Stephen’s paintings by self-publishing an art volume and high-quality prints. Eventually, she expanded the Gallery’s offerings by curating fine art objects from China and gradually shifted to promote Canadian artists. These were all new frontiers for Eunice to navigate but she leaned heavily on her instincts, developing a sharp business acumen.

Eunice had a relentless work ethic. As a small business owner, she had no one to rely on but herself. She regularly worked 12-hour days, longer at the height of the summer tourist season. She would rise early to prepare the day’s meals for the children before she left for the Gallery. Her children understood the enormity of her sacrifice and always felt her loving care and presence. In spite of countless roadblocks and failures encountered along the way, Eunice emerged as a fearless, tenacious woman who would not accept failure as an outcome. Her innate talent, personal strength and perseverance propelled the Stephen Lowe Art Gallery forward. It not only survived – it thrived, as did her family.

Following her retirement in 2005, Eunice poured her energy into a new passion project: publishing a second, more comprehensive art volume of Stephen’s works along with the telling of his life story. Stephen Lowe – A Bridge Between Cultures is a stunningly beautiful book, released to coincide with an invitation from the Consulate General of Canada in Guangzhou to exhibit Stephen’s paintings at the grand opening of their new offices in 2016.

As we, Eunice’s children, look back on her extraordinary journey, we marvel at what she has achieved – building a successful business; self-publishing two art volumes; exhibiting Stephen’s paintings all around the world; and most importantly, raising three children who would go on to achieve university undergraduate degrees.  It is all the more remarkable when we consider the obstacles she had to overcome. From her early childhood, Eunice has had a deep appreciation and yearning for higher education. It is with this in mind that we wish to honour her by creating an award to help students who may be facing personal or financial obstacles as they endeavour to pursue a post-secondary education and build a critical foundation for future success.

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