Shannon Wong

From East to West

Immigration is the act of settling and living permanently in a foreign country. Personally this word bears much meaning in my family. It was immigration that changed not only my Bak- Goong’s life, but also the lives of his wife, children, and grandchildren. My family experienced both discrimination and a language barrier and therefore had to quickly adapt to Canadian tradition and culture. They worked extremely hard, often two to three jobs at a time in order to support their growing family. Without this hard work and dedication I believe my life would be very different than what it is today. It is the past experiences of my family members that have shaped my morals, values and life.

My family originated from Sun Woi (Xin Hui) county in Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province, China. My Bak-Goong’s relatives saved every penny for three years in order to send their son to Canada. They believed that they were sending him to Gum San (Gold Mountain) to become rich in order to support the family in China. However, upon his arrival into Canada, Bak- Goong was faced with much hardship. At only twelve years old, he emigrated to Canada in 1912. Since he was alone in a foreign country where he could not speak the language, he found solace in a rooming house in Chinatown. For many years he worked as a forestry labourer in a sawmill in Honeymoon Bay, BC. However, due to a workplace accident at the sawmill, Bak- Goong lost all the fingers on his right hand except his thumb, leaving him without a job. Without use of one of his hands, he could now only work as a servant. Shortly after the accident he found work in a wealthy home on Beach Drive as a servant for Mrs. Porter. Here he did everything: gardening, laundry, and accompanying Mrs. Porter shopping. After saving for several years Bak-Goong was finally able to bring his wife to Canada in 1957. Bak-Goong lived together with Bak-Bak in the Porter’s home until enough money was saved to bring their son over. Yeh-yeh brought along two of his daughters Lucy and Denise in 1964.

Upon his son’s arrival Bak-Goong decided to move out of the Porter household to live in a house on Forbes Street (still in Victoria) with his family. To contribute to the income Yeh-yeh began working 4 jobs to support the family! He mainly worked at the sawmill, but he also had a job maintaining the railroad in Duncan when no logs needed processing at the sawmill. On the side, he also worked part-time landscaping and working in restaurants. While Bak-Goong worked at the Porter household, Bak-Bak also worked for Vantright Farms in Saanichton and Yeh-yeh could only come home on the weekends, leaving his children to fend for themselves. Lucy and Denise began special English classes soon after they arrived in Canada. In her free time, Lucy helped her father working at the grocery store.

Once the family had raised enough money, Yeh-yeh was able to bring his wife, mama and their three youngest children Colin, Yvette, and Juanita to Canada in 1967. The family then moved to a house in the North Park neighbourhood of Victoria where they all lived together. Juanita, Yvette, and Colin joined their older siblings at school while mama started working. Like her husband, mama worked many different jobs. She cleaned on the dockyard, worked in restaurants, and also worked with Bak Bak at Vantright Farms.

My father Colin still remembers when he immigrated to Canada. At 9 years old he quickly learned English and was soon transferred to George Jay Elementary School where his older siblings also attended. After school and on weekends he also helped Bak-Goong mow lawns for over a dozen houses as well as running a paper route in the mornings. Along with his other siblings, my father helped out with household chores. In the backyard, he had a vegetable garden so that the family could grow their own food. Every inch of land was cultivated. In his childhood my father, like other Chinese has had to deal with discrimination. On special occasions my father often went out with friends to have a little fun. One day my father and several of his friends decided to go swimming at the Crystal Gardens pool in downtown Victoria. However, they were soon kicked out as a rule had been put into place banning “Chinese and dogs” from swimming there. Instead, my father and his friends swam in an outdoor pool in Beacon Hill Park. Along with many other Chinese, he too was also often referred to as a “Ching” or “Chink”. This name-calling began when he was at a particularly young age. My father can still recall many students from his school insulting the Chinese race.

Although my family had to overcome much hardship upon their arrival in Canada, I believe they made the right decision in coming here. Immigration to Canada has become much easier for all ethnic groups, thus expanding the cultural diversity of Canada. Many ESL and language programs have been put in place allowing newcomers to quickly and efficiently learn the English language. Finding a meaningful job where one can support their family has become more possible to all immigrants. Discrimination against the Chinese has definitely subsided over the past years. So much so that imagining a Canada without the mix of different races is hard to comprehend. It is because of our ancestors’ determination that Canada has changed for the better. Through their hard work and sacrifice, they ensured our entire family would have a bright future here in Gum Shan—Canada.

Bak-Goong: maternal great-grandfather
Bak-Bak: spouse to maternal great-grandfather

Yeh-yeh (right) maintaining the railroad tracks in Duncan, BC
August 1962

Bak Goong-Twelve years old. Head Tax Certificate

Bak Goong with Mrs. Porter


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