Alicia Yip

From one trip to another – a Yip’s family story

Last year in 2011, in the week of June 24th, my grandmother, my father and his three brothers went on a family trip to find the headstone of my great-great-grandfather, Quan Yuet Yip.  It all started with my grandmother’s deep desire to find the last resting place of my great-great-grandfather who had come to Canada in the 1890s.  My grandmother wanted his great-grandsons to pay their respects to the man who had gone on a trip to a foreign land to find a better life for himself, his family, and future descendants such as me.

My grandmother has always been an active participant of the Chinese Head Tax Redress movement.  She was there when the meetings of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada were held.  As well, she was there at the Canada Day protest walks.  She is a firm believer in the principle of “one certificate, one claim”.  One time, she and my father even collaborated on a Chinese translation of a newspaper article on the Head Tax matter.  On many occasions for the past ten years or so, during family gatherings such as birthday celebration dinners and grave site visits, she would bring up the subject of going to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to pay a visit to the gravesite of our pioneering forebear Quan Yuet Yip. Through the kind effort of relatives still living in Moose Jaw, about five years ago my grandmother finally learned that his headstone was in one of the local cemeteries.  Then, last year she, my father, and uncles all went to Moose Jaw and Saskatoon where they spent three days visiting gravesites. They had a great time with other family and friends in Saskatchewan.  But most importantly, my grandmother is especially glad that one of her last wishes had been fulfilled.

I learned through my father and grandmother that since it was over a hundred years ago, not too much was known about my great-great-grandfather, Quan Yuet Yip.  It was known that he had to pay the Head Tax in order to get into Canada.  After he came to Canada he had worked in a laundry and several restaurants. Unfortunately he became sick and died. He was buried in a cemetery in Moose Jaw, which at that time had a rather large Chinese population, as indicated by the many headstones with Chinese names on them.  When my great-grandfather Steve See Tim Yip emigrated from the Nan Lock Village in Toishan county to come to Canada, he was hoping to find a better life and to earn more money for his family.  He was a hardworking farmer in his village. However, the soil yielded poor crops and he could not support his family. During his planned year of emigration, the Head Tax was in force. My great-grandfather found it difficult to save the $500 required, and thus had to repeatedly ask relatives in the village to borrow money from them.  After arriving in Canada, my great-grandfather found it hard to fit in and to adapt to the Canadian environment.  After all, he was a newcomer who spoke a different language, and was unaware of various Canadian traditions.  First, he started working as a kitchen helper in a restaurant and slowly he learned to cook.  After many years of hard work, he was hired on as a cook at a logging camp, and had to cook for approximately 300 people a day.  Later on, he became the head chef at a high-class hotel in Agassiz, B.C.

By this time, life for a Chinese immigrant had improved a bit.  My great-grandfather Steve was able to save enough money so that he could go back to China to find a wife. Together, they had a son.  But by that time, the Canadian government had already enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act and therefore he could not bring them over and live together as a family.  Instead, he had to work hard in order to save enough money to send them. Many lonely nights were endured throughout his life.  He could only manage two or three trips back to China, one being my father’s 1st month of life celebration.  However, through the gracious help of his Member of Parliament, my great-grandfather was able to sponsor my great-grandmother and my father and an uncle to come to Canada in 1969; eventually, they were later joined by my grandfather, my grandmother, two other uncles and one aunt in 1981.  Even though the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1947, the immigration law of the Canadian government was still restrictive to the Chinese.  My grandfather, Bing Quin Yip, living in China between the 1930s and 1970s, was not allowed to enter Canada to attend the funeral of his own parents.  He had deep regrets about this for the rest of his life.

When my father arrived in 1969, he attended a secondary school where the majority of students were white where it was very difficult for him to fit in.  In a whole class of 25 people, there were only three Chinese.  Every day at school, my father was harassed and bullied, and it was completely unexpected and uncalled for.  My father had thought that Canada would be a beautiful new place; full of opportunities for him to live out the life he wanted.  Instead he had to deal with discrimination from people at his school.  Discrimination still continued when my father attended college as well.  By this point, he was too traumatized and since nobody was able to help, and for other reasons, he dropped out of school.  This has been a decision that my father has regretted deeply, and it makes me wonder what he could have accomplished if there had been no discrimination back then.  Even today, he still carries the scars from his high school and college days, and I think it is unfair that he had to suffer so much from the racist legacy of the discriminatory laws enacted by the government.

As someone who was born here in Canada, I feel extremely lucky and blessed that I have lived a comfortable life and have not had to go through the many hardships my ancestors did.  I am reminded by a story told to my father from distant relatives in Moose Jaw.  It seemed that every year during the Ching Ming Festival, the local Chinese community go to the cemeteries and pay their respects to the various Chinese pioneers buried there, even though they have no personal connection to most of them.  I understand now that these acts of kindness and the sense of community among the Chinese remain strong and deep. We must strive to end racial discrimination and build a more peaceful world.

A photo of my father, Barry Yip, at 8 years old

with my great-grandfather Steve Yip.

The headstone of my great-great-grandfather, Quan

Yuet Yip, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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