Christine Chan

My Family Story

My great-grandfather – Fook Sing Jung and my great-grandmother – Wai Ho Tong, were born in Ying Ping, Canton China. My great-grandfather was born in 1895 as was my great-grandmother. My great-grandfather’s family, while living in Canton, had to work very hard. The family was very poor –  no food, no medicine, no shoes. My great-grandfather could not attend school as his father had passed away when he was very young and he became the family provider, and had to find any jobs that would pay him a wage.

As the years went by, my great-grandfather met and married Wai Ho Tong. They had a daughter,  Cheun Mow.

My great-grandfather decided that he would have to leave Canton in search for better employment so he left the family to come to Canada. Knowing that a $500 Head Tax would have to be paid, he borrowed money from various relatives, promising to pay them back.  Once my great-grandfather managed to secure the funds for the Head Tax along with money for the journey, he purchased a ticket and came across to Canada by boat.

He arrived in Vancouver, on July 23, 1918, at the age of 23.

After unsuccessfully trying to find a job in Vancouver, he learned  that there were plenty of job openings in Duncan, on Vancouver Island. So, he went over and got a job as a cook in a logging camp. During the many years he worked as a cook, he managed to save money and started to pay back some of the money he owed to relatives for the Head Tax.  He also had to send whatever extra money he had left over to his wife and daughter who were still living in Canton.

Only after the Second World War, sometime in 1949, did my great-grandfather at the age of 54, return to Canton to visit his wife and daughter. He only stayed there for six months before returning to Canada. Once back, he applied to reunite with his wife and daughter in Canada. Three years later, in 1952, his wife and daughter would arrive in Vancouver. My great-grandmother started her first job working on a farm. My great-grandfather went on to work as a cook at a restaurant in Vancouver.

My grandmother at the age of 18 went to a local school. She attended school for only one year and was placed in what was then called the special class for new Canadians. College was unobtainable due to the language barrier so my grandmother worked part-time at a grocery store and restaurant.  In 1955, my grandmother married and she had four children. In 1963, my grandmother started a job as a can labeler where she worked until she retired.

One of my grandmother’s memories regarding discrimination was waking up at 5:00 one morning to catch a bus for work only to have a bus driver take her transfer ticket away making my grandmother have to pay again for her fare while another passenger had their transfer ticket honored.

Nowadays, discrimination has diminished as times have changed and Canada is more diverse.  I hope that I am able to describe the life my great-grandparents and grandmother had to live through.

I believe that the Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act caused many families to endure a lot of pain knowing that the onerous debts incurred  had to be paid back.

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