web analytics

Research Department


May 17th, 2013 § Comments Off on Introduction § permalink

Welcome to the Research Department. Here you will find material I have turned up researching Digging to China.

To begin with, two feature articles written for Sing Tao daily about my travels to China in search of Mr. Wong’s story. The first was published just before my departure for Wing Ning, and the second, a follow-up story by Lu Wong was published a year later in 2011.

I am posting neat stuff, too; information I’ve come across which I have found incredibly useful — and think you might as well. There are contributions from two collaborators. Chuck C.C. Wong’s bibliographies, and Howe Chan’s stories about his family’s early years of in Canada. Howe’s first one is about Muin Hahow Goun, the Chan family’s benefactor.  You will find it in Chinese followed English.

Conversation with John Ralston Saul      John Saul’s A Fair Country — Telling Truths about Canada is about buried history. It is one of those books that tells you things you’ve always vaguely suspected. Like the phrase “peace, order and good government” isn’t the real thing.  The phrase almost always used  in legal and constitutional documents was actually Peace, Welfare and Good Government. Bit of a difference, eh? As I read that section of the book, I could hear myself cheering.

One word makes all the difference. Saul calls it Métis Canada,  referring to the informal exchanges between individuals and groups who were ‘just getting along’  even racist laws were on the books and being enforced. Most especially, Saul writes about the influence of Aboriginal communities on the lives and evolving culture of in-coming Europeans, that continues to this day.  You can read more in excerpts below from a conversation we had last February.  And more about John here.



Research Department

Interview with John Ralston Saul

October 18th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

February 27th, 2013

Most people I have encountered who are talking about A Fair Country seem to be Aboriginal. What has been the response to the book generally, particularly to the section called The Castrati — the politicians, bureaucrats and historians who’ve misinterpreted our past as a people and a civilization? 

Most people act as if that part of the book doesn’t exist. Canadians don’t really want to read about that kind of failure, I sense. But I felt I had to write that part of the book because to me one of the characteristics of colonialism is what people don’t say. The colonial mind is in all the things that aren’t said. The part of the book people talk about is the first part, the aboriginal part. Not so much because it’s positivist, but because it gives an explanation which makes sense to people. I think the effect of the castrati part is, someone read it and think “am I like that?”  They may not want to talk about it, but they think about it.

What I liked about The Castrati section was your naming of people. What happened to the Indigenous people didn’t happen by fiat, you are saying; it happened because people made it happen.

That’s right. I think it was very important for me to say that we didn’t have to do these things, none of this it was inevitable, this happened because people allowed it to happen, because they didn’t take responsibility. There’s a very interesting little detail in all of this — the last 40 years of the globalist period when theoretically all the walls were falling down and it didn’t matter who owned things [because] nobody was in charge, the market was in charge. Well, first of all nobody outside the West ever believed any of that, either because they were benefiting from it or suffering from it, one or the other. Nobody in the U.S. ever believed that really, no one in England ever believe that, so why do people in Canada believe in that? Fine, a little bit of cultural nationalism but they became embarrassed by the idea that you should own something or have a long-term policy or take responsibility, No, the sophisticated modern international thing is that you can’t control that of sort of  thing locally, whereas, in fact, everybody else was controlling it locally. See, that’s the sign of the colonial mind.

Let’s focus on Métis Canada. How do think the absorption of those Indigenous ideals and ways of being happened? You can’t exactly look it up in documents…

There are a lot more documents than you think — just read five volumes of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, an most amazing collection. People have said it endlessly, endlessly, the stuff I’m saying; it’s been said for 400 years. It was kind of a willful writing it out of our history.

Who was saying it?

All sorts of people. The Aboriginals were saying it, non-Aboriginals, the Métis, all sorts of Hudson Bay people were saying it, the early treaties, the Peace of Montreal, the subsequent Peace of Niagara, letters between people, comments by people. Tons of documentation. So we have those things we’ve chosen to focus on, the reports home by the colonial officers — “I’m doing a wonderful job subduing the (you know the myth) barbarians”. But even those people will be writing another letter in parallel saying something else. I remember a wonderful letter back to priests coming out [to New France], I think from Brébeuf,  an absolutely unforgiving instruction to them on how to act. When you read this you realize the reason he’s telling them this is because they’re otherwise going to come here and think they’re in charge. What you do, he tells them, is help carry the canoe, eat what you’re given, don’t wear your large hat in the canoe because otherwise people can’t see..etc And suddenly you have a vision of these young priests as totally in the hands of the Wyandot, or whoever, and that’s a very different relationship.

One of the difficulties is that the way we’ve written history and that it is, first of all, written. That’s been the twentieth century approach to history. In the 19th century people were much more open to oral memory and talking to people. So you end up with this footnoted approach, and the dilemma of what facts are you going to choose? You’re [living] in this period when the dominant ethos is European so you choose those documents. So there’s a winnowing going on which then takes you away from what might be happening. People do things, they have relationships, they build communities and somebody writes something that doesn’t describe it properly; this does not mean it didn’t happen, and it doesn’t mean people have forgotten. People don’t forget so easily; people remember on many levels. The collective unconscious does exist.

I’ve recently reviewed Carolyn Abraham’s book on her family genealogy and DNA testing called The Juggler’s Children, in which family memory turns out to be at least as reliable as science.

This is what the Delgamuuk case was about, oral history and memory. Take the business of the letter from the BC chiefs outside Kamloops to Wilfred Laurier in 1910. Here’s this remarkable letter describing the relationships there for 150 years before, I suppose; it’s not taught anywhere, it’s not part of our official history.  I was in Kamloops speaking at the university in August, 2010 and there were a lot of Aboriginals in the audience. You remember, Laurier did that big trip across Canada that year.  When I started talking about this letter, they said, yes, yes we’re going to celebrate it, it’s the 100th anniversary. They know it, and they’ve figured out ways to keep it going, they’re were going to restage it. …

I can hardly get through a speech about Canada without quoting one (or more) documents, saying this is one of the most important documents in the creation of Canada and it’s very beautifully written and full of ideas and eloquence and that’s why you’ve never heard of it and why it’s not taught. But this doesn’t mean it’s forgotten. It’s there.

Do have a grip on how Canadian historiography has changed?

I think what’s changing is that for the first time since the creation of Canadian universities you now find young aboriginal professors there. They are bringing memory back into what is now the mainstream. Is it an obligatory course, no, but it’s an important step. These are voices that didn’t exist, and they publishing stuff. Niigonwedom James Sinclair at the University of  Winnipeg has just published a book which won prises, collecting all the aboriginal writings of Manitoba.


So here’s what happened. You are sitting in Canada, which actually had been on its own in many ways for a long time, and suddenly you have this big influx of people arriving from the most important empire in the world. These people, like the people going from Britain to India, will jump one to two classes by coming to Canada. So, if they left England as working class they will be at least lower middle class here if not middle class. And they just impose this view which is the British (or French) view of the world.  They come and kind of sit on top of Canadian society, and they have a leg up. You may have been here for generations but you’re of German origin. We’re English. We’re Protestant.

This is when the term Anglo-Saxon started to be used, to cover all this, around 1890s?

Yes. It’s all that stuff. And they started talking about the red people, the white people, our Island race; all that crap. Those racial and cultural arguments give power, and they really did sit that on top of the real Canada. People whisper don’t be ridiculous, how could that happen? Well that’s where you simply don’t understand what it was like to be alive then.  The British empire and the French empire decided everything. Today American movies, or American fast food — these are tiny things, nothing compared to those empires. Queen Victoria was left-handed, that’s why napkins go on the left, you know. There was a big argument over how you set the table. There’s a British way of setting a table and a French way. The whole world was divided up on how to set a table. I’m being funny, right? Which system of law do you use, civil code or common law? So there was no escaping it. It was so dominant, much more dominant than globalization which is amateur night at the Bijiou compared with those guys.


What about the terms, we use the term diversity, multiculturalism. What do you use?

I’ve never liked multiculturalism because I’ve always considered it to be an old-fashioned, clunky term, and thought of it as pretty Austro-Hungarian. Austria-Hungary was ahead of Europe in many ways; it did have minorities living under a single emperor, they each had their rights but it was a sort of mediaeval structure. They were pods, and what kept them apart and held them together was the emperor. That’s not what multiculturalism is. It’s not a series of cultures. It’s not the melting pot either. So what is it? It’s kind of multiple personalities, and overlapping cultures. I think the  French Canadian interculturalism is a better term because they do penetrate each other. People worry that this means things are disappearing. But it isn’t about whether things are pure or have melted into each other; it’s about complexity. Let people work out the kind of complexity they want to live with.

The essential nature of Canada is that it’s complicated. And the reason I say that is because I am so bored listening endlessly to people saying — Why can’t we just be patriotic like the Americans?  Well, actually, the reason we can’t is that we don’t want to. Because we aren’t like that. It’s very complicated here and we actually enjoy the complexity. And every time a group succeeds in putting a proposition for simplicity into the centre of the public debate we get in deep trouble. We have race riots or racist laws, or enormous national crises —  Live with complexity. Nothing wrong with complexity.

I do like the idea of giving ourselves permission to be who we are. To accept that Canada is, in fact, a work-in-progress.

There’s nothing wrong with that. You see the Westphalian idea is — here’s the sacred territory, and God has put the sacred people on the sacred territory, with the sacred myth and the sacred religion and the sacred language and are we happy and pure. And the sacred race, did I say that? And then we notice some dust over there, we go brush off the dust and it happens to be 50,000 gypsies. Then there’s a rock over there, we have to destroy that, that turned out to be a village filled with a German religious minority. They’re just endlessly at work purifying. And they kill millions and millions of people, and ban languages, all in the name of a centralized, unified idea of purity.

Do you suppose these were informal relations?  Or just a instances of people just getting on?

No they had relationships that were formal. If you read the diaries and memoirs of people who travelled about,  “…Went into Timmins where there were some Swampy Cree, and met the daughter of the Hudson’s Bay factor who’s Scottish, and the daughter of the Cree chief”, they describe how they all lived together. When you read this you realize there were social structures and they related to each other and there was a certain amount of acceptance. It wasn’t all that formal, but there were actual agreements about who would do what, where and  how people would move, and how a society would be structured.

I also think there’s a sort of Aboriginal nature to the immigration settlement patterns that’s hard to put your finger on. Where did these ideas come from? When 50,000 Loyalists arrived, you can give this post-facto European interpretation that there weren’t many people living in Upper Canada, there weren’t many people in Nova Scotia, and so they were given land. But how did they convince themselves to hand out the land that way? This wasn’t what was happening elsewhere. And they were giving equipment and 200 acres to unmarried women, for example! They just made this stuff up, and obviously they felt comfortable doing it this way. It was not done on the basis of class, not on the basis of the standard buying and selling and ownership. So where did they get this co-operative idea? How did that happen? Well, it just seemed to be what worked there. Well why did it work there? Well, because it’s very tough there. Yes, well where did the ideas come from? Well, it seems…

And then you gradually start to see it comes out of these long term relationships between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals and how they made things function. It’s not that difficult because it’s in effect how human beings do stuff. But  it becomes difficult when you then take British common law and try to say…wait a minute, under common law this is what you would do.


One powerful point you make is that we didn’t all come from dominant cultures, but were largely minorities in the countries we left. It’s definitely obvious now….

I think it was always obvious. Again there was this lie in the late 19th century when people wanted to pretend that they were English, not German, not Jewish, and that we were all middle class. Whereas the reality is this country was not the place of choice. On the other hand, they were people who’d suffered greatly and were pretty tough and were pretty driven. They came and if they stayed they found a way.

Why has it taken so long for us to see this as a strength?

Well, because of what I’ve been saying. We allowed this imposing of the imperial and European myth in the late 19th and we’re still struggling with that. That’s why I’m sometimes not very popular. You’re struggling with a myth that’s not helping us. And it’s not our myth. We were not born of war. Sure we’ve done our wars, but we weren’t born of war. So don’t try and stick this on top like we’re a little England or little France or United States. Canada was not born at Vimy. Canada did not became a nation through the shedding of blood. That is such horrible European blood-based argument for the nation state. That’s not what’s made Canada; that’s not how Francophones, and Anglophones and the Aboriginals lived together — by killing each other. That’s not how we did it. So this is yet another attempt to go back to those European myths and to re-impose the old Colonial myths on the country.

I’ve been thinking about Europe’s experience with multiculturalism, and how difficult it is to do if you are an empire or even an ex-empire.

It really does go back to the creation of these monolithic nation states. They call it the Enlightenment, and there were some good things, obviously. But what no one wants to say openly is that the model chosen was a mistake. Did it produce some good literature, sure; did it in the end produce some social democratic programs, sure. But it was an anti-humanist model, although humanism never disappeared, so why would we want to impose on ourselves a failed European model when they killed 100 million of their own in less than half of the 20th century in a final bloodbath of the model? Why would we want that? So that we can have empty churches and palaces to wander around in and admire? I’m not criticizing the architecture or saying the food is bad, I m talking about the civilizational model, the political model.

Do you think we have come to recognize it and believe in it more?

We have to believe we have a model. And that’s one of the reasons I talk very carefully in my books about the Canadian civilization; not to say the Canadian model, is better but to say we are actually doing something here on purpose, not by mistake. It’s intention, it’s not an accident. If you know what  you’re doing works then it should not be unconsciously intentional but consciously intentional.




In our lifetime, things have changed in ways that would have appalled our grandparents, huge social change has occurred without bloodshed, in a civilized manner.

That’s because the collective unconscious was there. And that’s because these forces were at play in the country. Again we have imposed French civilization, we’ve imposed English civilization and everything is hidden underneath.  The fact is here you could never really do that, it was always flowing, it was always disorganized and people were always going in and out of the cities.  This fluidity of the civilization carried on in spite of the racist laws. There were these waves of new immigrants coming in, and you know at some point down the pike they’re going start weaving into the whole society. Because we’re not a formal class-based society. You couldn’t keep the third generation Ukrainians in their villages outside Winnipeg; they’re going to leave and come to Winnipeg and then they’re going to vote. And the next thing you know, you going to have a Ukrainian mayor. And there you are. It’s that fluidity and that complexity.

On last question. Idle No More. Where do you think that will go.

The way I look at it is very simply that there’s a comeback that started with the 170,000 remaining Aboriginals in Canada in 1900-1910. They started building — you can actually trace it from around 1900, the lowest point  — they start building political institutions, volunteering in the war, all this stuff. Defeat, defeat, small victories, big defeats, and population growth. And here they are on their way back to 2 million, and here we have a political event that lasted 3 months and people say, “oh they’re divided”, or “we’ll wait and they’ll go away” and they’re completely misunderstanding about what’s happening.

And what’s happening is this: They’re coming back. And they’re not going away, and there are going to be more and more of them, and they’re going to win more and more court cases. So what your classic Parliament Hill journalist thought was division is actually a discussion going on inside the Aboriginal community. Do I think it odd that some people on the street vote Liberal and some vote Conservative, do I think that means Canada doesn’t work? Are Aboriginal not allowed to have multiple ideas? Do they think about it in the same way [as non-Aboriginals do]?

Very specifically, the meeting about who would see the Prime Minister and who wouldn’t go. One AFN chief didn’t go in solidarity with Chief Spence. The press said the AFN was riven down the centre and the national chief finished. Well the next day the chief was available for interview, and he said. “No, I didn’t go to the meeting out of solidarity with Chief Spence. That doesn’t mean that we’re divided, it doesn’t mean I am against the national chief. It just means I didn’t go to the meeting out of solidarity with Chief Spence.” Everybody  was trying to read a very simple meaning into it; there’s not a simple meaning, it’s a complicated meaning. And they’re just going to keep moving on.

Research Department

陳文厚, 施恩無數 撰文:陳厚基 (English Follows)

October 6th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

陳文厚,  施恩無數





“陳”乃我的家族姓氏,英文也可寫為“Chan”。 “Chin”之發音屬鶴山方言,而“Chan”則為廣東方言發音。“文厚”则为婚后之改名,意為“博學”。“公”則是為尊稱祖父輩男性而加的稱謂。“國讓”是他出生時的名字,意為“豐衣足食”。而 “Quak Chan”則是他於1916年在沙省人口普查時登記的名字。 從他當 時登記的43歲年齡可推斷出他出生於1873年。他的出生地為:

Ai {大} (big) Long {萌} (meadow) Tuen {村}(village)

Thium {三} (three) Gup {合} (combine) Keaul {處} (precinct),

Hoi {台} (platform) Sun {山} (mountain) Yon {縣} (county),

Gong {廣} (broad) Oun {東} (east) Sunk {省} (province)

Jung {中} Central Gock {國} (country which is China)


“中國”的意思為“國之中心“。曾幾何時,也稱作 “中土”。而今日,他的出生地的名稱也已大不同。 “大萌村”已改稱為“ Ai Jug Tuen”, 意為“大而淺的湖”之村。曾經的“處”則改為“鎮”, “縣”改為“市”。 因此有了現在的“台山市”,廣東省,中華人民共和國。


陳文厚是我祖父最年輕的表兄。據1916年的人口普查顯示,他於1902年來到加拿大。至於他到底要到哪裡就未知。1914年,正值他申請我父親來加之際,他已經和另外兩個生意拍檔在沙省的Weyburn, 一個只得幾白人的小鎮,經營著一家客棧和一家餐館。由於地處鐵路附近,生意相當不錯。而鐵路是當時唯一的交通工具,栽人運貨。鐵路工人和乘客都會在客棧住宿,在餐館就餐。附近的農夫們只要進城,也會和家人們留宿至此。當時的農業機械還較少見。夜間一些季節性的農夫們還會在客棧巡邏,確保安全。


我父親陳錫扶也被稱做“Fred Chan”,是文厚公的侄孫。父親兩歲時死了父親,十二歲時又喪母。他由兩位伯父撫養至十六歲。直至文厚公申請他來加。文厚公借錢資助父親,用於路費和沈重的五百元人頭稅。前後可能至少有一千大元,在1914年來說是相當大的數目。我父親抵埔後就在客棧做服務生,努力工作九年不僅還清債務,還存錢於1923年回中國娶了我母親。文厚公也資助了在鄉下生活的長兄,給錢他買水牛、農田,以至後來大伯父做起了水牛買賣的生意。他幫助另一位兄弟,即Chong Bahk的父親及Jason Chin的祖父去特尼達。此兄弟後想從新奧爾良偷渡去美國,但三次均未成功,被遣返回特尼達。他於是在此度過一生,再也未踏上故土。


叔父洋名叫Duncan Wong,自和我父親遇到後就一直生活在Weyburn或Admiral。他僅讀了三、四年書,離開學校後就一直找不到工。 我父親尚喜愛他,於是安排他在客棧工作。1937年,我父親和叔父Jimmy(Dennis的祖父),以及叔父Fong在斯高沙省的雪梨開了The Dome Grill餐廳,也叫上Duncan叔父做生意拍檔。第二年,他們在Moncton又開了The Palace Grill餐廳。Jimmy叔父和Duncan叔父一直在那裡做,直至1947年The Dome Grill被燒毀。我父親和叔父Fong於是來到Moncton投奔他們。而叔父Duncan兩個弟弟也過來,在當地讀高中,四十年代畢業的。我們這些個親戚能在加拿大站穩腳跟,都要蒙文厚公當年的慷慨相助啊。


另一個叔父Walter Wong,也是Mou Sook (他是Wayne和Michael的父親)的叔父,1922年來到沙省,  當年只得13歲的樣子。 他也投奔我父親當年做事的客棧,我父親於是照顧他至學業完成。他畢業於麥基爾大學,擁有工程學學士學位。他後來在Alcan公司謀職。他也是受惠於文厚公的家人之一。




他有兩位妻子,四個兒子,兩個女兒,超過十五個孫輩,更多的曾孫後輩。除了中國外,這些後輩們散布在美國、加拿大、澳洲以及斐濟島。居住在安省滑鐵盧的Dorothy Tam是文厚公的外孫女。她母親和父親在斐濟島結婚,現在和她的兄弟居住在澳洲。加上配偶們,文厚公的大家族裡起碼有兩百人。Mou Sook和他的父親是村里十幾個做水牛生意的人之一,他們的家族也人丁興旺。他父親自備馬匹外出從商。他們還經營水牛屠宰生意,在台山市有皮革生意。




The Palace Grill餐館因為位處市中心,當時是相當不錯的生意。周圍有四層樓的商場、三個電影院、四個教堂、一個鐵路站、一個長途汽車站,還至少有四、五個酒店住宿。餐廳經常爆滿,又總要招人做工才行。因為有這家餐館,我和Quinn、Quon才有資格移民到Moncton。一同來的還有Chong Goo,Jason的父親和我的侄子Poon, Lincoln Mah, Chopstick餐館的東主,, Tiant (Johnny) Goun, Rice Bowl餐館的東主, Quinn的岳父, Fong的家族,Fairview一家餐館的東主, 林家以及Lincoln Mah的姐夫。還有其他的親戚我可能都不記得了。


其他人來Moncton因為可以在The Palace Grill餐館找工做,例如Wayne, Jack Mah和Joe Chin。Wayne和Jack是最好的例子。Wayne本來在Keliher,沙省的一個小鎮,Jack則在雪梨附近的農場做工。他們如果不去Moncton,可能以後都賺不到錢。他們先在餐館打工,後來入股就有份投資。他們後來結婚,有了家庭,這些都有賴文厚公的恩賜。沒有他,就沒有我父親,也就沒有The Palace Grill餐館。其他的父輩們也不可能來Moncton。他們也許會過的更好,但他們不可能組成家庭有了後代。







– 30 –

Research Department

Chin Muin Hahow, Benefactor of A Hundred and Some People by Howe Chan 陳厚基

September 12th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Chin Muin Hahow,  Benefactor of A Hundred and Some People

by Howe Chan {陳厚基}



This is a brief biography of Chin {陳} (Chan) Muin {文} Hahow {厚} Goun {公}, the benefactor of many in my family including myself. This is because of his kind deed which was bringing my father to Canada.

Chin is our family name, the same as Chan, Chin being the Hoi-Sunese pronunciation and Chan the Cantonese. (Although the Cantonese really should be Chun). Muin {文}Hahow {厚}was the title taken after marriage. It means ample literacy. Hahow is the same as my name in Chinese which means thick, ample or much. Goun is a term of respect for a man in the same generation as one’s paternal grandfather. Gock {國Ngehn {讓} was his birth name and means national yield. Zing Chan was the name recorded in the Saskatchewan provincial census of 1916. He was born in 1873 as calculated from his age (forty-three) recorded in that census. His place of birth was:

Ai {大} (big) Long {萌} (meadow) Tuen {村}(village)

Thium {三} (three) Gup {合} (combine) Keaul {處} (precinct),

Hoi {台} (platform) Sun {山} (mountain) Yon {縣} (county),

Gong {廣} (broad) Oun {東} (east) Sunk {省} (province)

Jung {中} Central Gock {國} (country which is China)

The Chinese name for China means “country at the centre”. Sometimes it is called The Middle Kingdom. Today his birthplace would be different. Ai Long Tuen has been changed to Ai Jug Tuen, meaning Big Shallow Lake Village. The word precinct has changed to township, and county to Shi which means district municipality, incorrectly  translated as a city. Tai Shan Sheng is the former Country town in Guangdong (Canton) Province, People’s Republic of China.

Chin Muin Hahow was my grandfather’s younger paternal first cousin. According to the 1916 census, he came to Canada in 1902. His first destination and job are unknown. However, by 1914 when he arranged to bring my father to Canada, he was the owner with three partners of a hotel and dining room in Weyburn Saskatchewan, then a town of a few hundred people.  The business did well because it had a railway station. The train was almost the only means of transportation for both passengers and goods then. Railway passengers and workers stayed in the hotel and ate in the dining room. Farmers in the surrounding area and their families came in to town to shop and ate there. There were few farming machines then, so there were many seasonal farm workers who also patronized the hotel and dining room.

Soon after his arrival in Weyburn, Muin Hahow Goun and his partners sent my father to a Baptist Church Sunday school to learn some English so he could help them in running their business. This enabled my father to learn more, and later to run his own hotel. The Church people helped him adapt his name to the English Fred, to rectify his age at immigration with the authorities (to seventeen) and to acquire a basic knowledge of English. He continued improving his English on his own by reading magazines like Life and Time. He never forgot how much he benefited from those classes, and in fact, arranged for my brother to attend a Baptist school in Guangzhou rather than have him go to the middle school in the county town.

My father Chin {陳 (thick) 錫(blessed with) 扶(support)} was known as Fred Chan who was a nephew, two generations removed, of Muin Hahow Goun two generations removed. My father was two when his father died and twelve when his mother died. He was raised to the age of sixteen by his two older brothers, at which point Muin Hahow Gouin arranged to bring him to Canada. Muin Hahow Goun also lent him the money for travel and other expenses and for the dreaded Head-Tax which was five hundred dollars. The total could have been a thousand dollars which was a very large amount in 1914. My father worked at the hotel as a waiter in the dining room. He managed to pay off the debt in nine years and still had enough left to go home and marry my mother in 1923. He also helped his two brothers, giving the eldest one money to buy water buffaloes, rice paddies  and then to become a water buffalo trader.  He gave the other brother, Chong Goo’s father and Jason Chin’s grandfather, the fare paid by my father so he could go to Trinidad. From there he tried to smuggle himself into the U.S. through New Orleans. (He tried and was caught three times and sent back to Trinidad where he spent his whole life and never went home.) Uncle Duncan Wong, who lived in either Weyburn or Admiral when my father first met him, had been to school for only three or four years and was unemployed. My father thought he was a good youth and gave him a job in his hotel. In 1937, when my father, Uncle Jimmy, (grandfather of Dennis and my father’s paternal first cousin), and Uncle Fong (father of Quinn, and my father’s paternal third cousin,) opened The Dome Grill in Sydney, N.S., they took Duncan in as a partner. Then, when they opened the Palace Grill in Moncton in 1938, Uncle Jimmy and Duncan ran it, and did so until 1947 when The Dome Grill was burned down. My father and Uncle Fong then came to Moncton. Uncle Duncan’s two younger brothers came to Moncton, too, and attended Moncton High, graduating in the 1940s. Here, then, are three people who benefited from Muin Hahow Goun’s kind deed of bringing my father to Canada.

Uncle Walter Wong, my father’s paternal second cousin and Mou Sook’s uncle, came to Robsart, Saskatchewan in 1922 as a teenager of about thirteen, and later went to Weyburn or Admiral where my father looked after him and supported him through school. He graduated from McGill with a B.Sc. in civil engineering. He later worked for Alcan. He is another one who benefited from Muin Hahow Goun. Wong is the family name on his birth certificate which qualified him to come to Canada. Mou is Wayne Chan, Michael’s father.



Muin Hahow Goun returned to China to live a few years after my father arrived in Weyburn. My father sent the profits from the business back to him so he could buy more rice paddies, and water buffaloes to lease to other farmers for tilling. The rent was paid in rice. He soon became a buffalo trader, going to adjacent counties where people had vacant fields where they could raise large numbers of animals. He brought the buffalos back and sold them on market days, leased some to farmers and selling the older ones to slaughter houses. Eventually he and his sons opened a slaughter house in Thium Gup, our local market town. The water buffalo hides were processed as the first step in making leather. His family was one of the better-off families not only in our village but also in the township.  He had two wives, four sons, two daughters, over fifteen grandchildren, and dozens of great and great-great grandchildren who live in Canada, the U.S., Australia and Fiji besides those still in China. Dorothy Tam who lives in Waterloo, Ontario is his daughter’s daughter. Her mother married her father in Fiji and now lives in Australia with her son and family. With their spouses, there should be over two hundred people, a great clan. Mou Sook’s father was one of a half dozen water buffalo traders in our village. He had a horse for travelling to business areas. They also had a share in a water buffalo slaughterhouse and their own hide processing plant in Hoi Sheng, our country town.


My father owned the Hotel Admiral in Admiral, Saskatchewan from 1927-1932, and closed it down because of the Great Depression and the big drought, the Dust Bowl. On his first visit home to China he married and had my brother. He returned twice more, in 1928 when he had my sister, and 1933. I was born in 1934.  I don’t know how he managed to do this during such difficult economic times. That is why I regard Muin Hahow Goun as our family’s great benefactor. There wouldn’t be me, my siblings or my children otherwise. If my father hadn’t come here he would not have married my stepmother, Jessie, and there wouldn’t be  her children and grandchildren — all fourteen of them.


The Palace Grill was a booming business because it was right in the centre of downtown. There were four department stores, three movie theatres, four churches, a railway station, long distance bus depot and four or five hotels besides dozens of other businesses. On some days there was hardly any room to walk in front of the Grill, and the place was packed with customers. Employees were always in demand. Because of this restaurant, I as well as Quinn, and Quon were able to emigrate to Moncton, as were Chong Goo, Jason’s father and my cousin Poon, Lincoln Mah*, owner of the Chopstick Restaurant, Tiant (Johnny) Goun owner of the Rice Bowl Restaurant, Quinn ‘s father-in-law and the Fong family owners of the restaurant in Riverview, the Lam family, brother-in-law of Lincoln Mah, and others I may have forgotten.


Others came to Moncton because they could get work at the Palace Grill.  Wayne, Jack Mah and Joe Chin. Wayne and Jack are the best examples. Wayne was in Keliher, a little town in Saskatchewan, and Jack on a farm near Sydney.  Their economic futures weren’t going to be very good unless they went to Moncton. They had jobs first and then became partners in the Palace Grill. They married and had families, the members of which are part of this story. Some reading this are also beneficiaries of Muin Hahow Goun. Without him, without my father, there would not have been the Palace Grill. Their fathers would not have come to Moncton, and might have gone elsewhere and done even better, but they would not have married their mothers.



Muin Hahow Goun died during the Japanese invasion of China. One early night, my mother took me to his house which was two houses away in the next row, to offer an incense stick to him in front of his remains. I didn’t know that he was my great benefactor until years later after I came to Canada. To have paid homage in a dimly lit place was quite an extraordinary experience for a seven year old boy. I hope those who are part of Muin Hahow Goun’s legacy remember him with gratitude and reverence.


I estimate there are over seventy people who have been given life as a result of Muin Hahow Goun’s kind deed, and thirty more whose lives were improved.



Note: This brief biography was originally written for the children of the members of my extended family. Their lives are part of the story. The many names are mentioned for them. HC


*The Lam family — of Lincoln Mah’s wife’s brother — came to Moncton with one young daughter. They subsequently had two more daughters. The father worked as a cook, mother as a dishwasher, and they raised their daughters who all graduated from university. One became a pharmacist, the other a medical doctor and a specialist in cancer treatment; both are residents of Vancouver, B.C. and they too benefitted from Muin Hahow Goan’s kind deed to my father.



Research Department

In Search Of A Head Tax Payer’s Past

May 23rd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

This article, by a staff writer, was originally published in Sing Tao September 18, 2010, and later reprinted in Kang He magazine. You can also download the article as a PDF (6.1Mb). The translation below is by Shan (Joanna) Qiao.

Canadian writer of Irish descent Susan Crean is searching for the past of a long deceased family servant, the Head Tax payer Wong Dong Wong, a kind and influential member of her family who is still remembered [forty years later].

Born and raised in a middle class family in Toronto’s Forest Hill, Susan studied and travelled in Europe and U.S. in her twenties. She has published several books and served as Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada in the 1990s.

Wong, on the other hand, was a Chinese labourer who struggled to make a life under Canada’s Exclusion Act. Study and travel was beyond his imagination. Because of legal restrictions and financial limitations, his start in life was a one-way ticket to Canada.

Growing up with Wong in her grandmother’s old kitchen, young Susan would not have known about his past, or how terribly the Head Tax affected his life. In her child’s eyes, Wong was part of the family, and worth fighting for when other white kids called him “Chink”.

Born in 1895, Wong came from a large village called Yong Nian of Tai Shan Province in Southeast China. He followed in the steps of a great many local Taishanese who bought boat tickets, paid the $500 Head Tax, and left for a better life.

Mr. Wong landed in Victoria on November 16th, 1911. He was sixteen and started his life in Gold Mountain unaware he would never get a chance to return home or have a family of his own in his adopted land. In 1928, he moved to Toronto and was hired by Crean’s grandparents as a domestic cook.

As a trusted family servant, Wong was at the deathbed of Crean’s grandfather, and played in the park with Susan and her siblings. He stayed on duty, fulfilling his responsibilities for almost four decades, looking after three generations of the family.

Wong is there in Crean’s childhood memories, a consoling and positive presence. He kept her Grandmother`s house and cooked the meals to perfection, and kept a proper distance with his employer and white society. He was generous at Christmas, and a whiz at fixing bicycles which meant he was popular with the children in the neighbourhood. He was also reserved. He had his dos and don’ts at the house. For example he’d never discussed his private life unnecessarily, or cooked Chinese food, or brought any of his countrymen to the house — not even a lady or companion.

So far as Crean knows, Wong was single and childless. Even though he occasionally mentioned to her father that he had someone back in the village, she never saw any photos or letters from family.

She still remembers some of the stories Wong told them they were young. “He told us about being an orphan, and how once he’d lost his way in the fog while tending his uncle’s cow. He’d been terribly afraid, but the cow knew her way, and guided him back home through the night.

“Wong wasn’t by himself in Chinatown. However, he never brought friends or acquaintances to us. Sometimes, I did hope that he had a regular family life like anybody else does,” she says.

Working as a domestic servant in the fifties and sixties, Wong had a stable and decent job and it would have been possible to save some money at the end of the year. Gambling in underground casinos in Chinatown was a popular way for old Chinese bachelors to kill time. Susan learned later that Wong either sent the money back to the village, or spent it on the gambling table, for he died with very little.

“He was a very generous man. I knew he was sending extra money to China for the education of the next generation,” Crean adds.

At the age of 70, Wong retired from his work and moved to a rooming house with other Chinese bachelor seniors. “I was studying in Europe, and not able to see him a great deal after he retired. However, my sister Jennie made efforts to visit him regularly. After seeing the cockroaches and mice in the first rooming house, she helped him move to 177 Dundas St. West. That was where Wong lived for the rest of his life,” she adds.

Crean visited him every Wednesday with Jennie during her stays in Toronto. They’d hang out at some legendary Chinese restaurant — like Sam Woo1 down the street — enjoying the food Wong wasn’t able to make at her grandparents’ house.

Wong became sick in 1969. Unable to care for himself, he spent his last three months in the hospital and he passed away there on the August long weekend, 1970 at the age of 75. He didn’t leave any written will. Jennie was the one whom the hospital called. He’d left a few hundred dollars, as if he’d figured out how much would cover his funeral expenses and a gravestone. The money was hidden in a tensor bandage that he used to wrap his ankles and legs with as he was a long-time sufferer of varicose veins. The bandage had already been cleared from the room when Jennie arrived, but she managed to find it in the laundry.

Wong was looked after by Jennie and Mr Jim Wong, a younger generation Taishanese who lived next door. Yet no family was there at the end. He was buried not far from his old employers at Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The little square gravestone is hardly big enough to tell the story a Head Tax payer and the solitude he endured his entire life.

As both a beloved member of the family and a Chinese Canadian pioneer, Wong is a character whom Susan wants to include in her current book on Toronto. She talks about the hidden history of those pioneers from distant continents, people of different colours and cultures and how diversity has contributed to the creation of the city we now call Toronto.

In order to find out something about Wong’s kin and the place he came from, Crean will be travelling to Taishan, China at the end of September. She will reverse the route that Wong took when made his journey almost a century ago.

Should readers have any information on Wong or his family, please contact Susan Crean.


Wong Dong Wong would not have be able to imagine the Canadian government officially apologizing for its past mistake in legislating the Chinese Head Tax. It is equally hard for us to imagine the extreme conditions the Chinese Head Tax payers faced in Canada:

  • The amount of Head Tax increased from $50 in 1885 to $100 in 1900. It was increased again to $500 in 1903, equivalent to two years wages of a Chinese labour at the time.
  • Meanwhile, Chinese were denied Canadian citizenship. In all, the Federal Government collected $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax, equivalent to more than $1.5 billion nowadays.
  • In 1923, the Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act excluding all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. Between 1923 and 1947 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, less than 50 Chinese were allowed to settle in Canada.
  • In addition to the Head Tax and Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants, especially the men, faced other forms of discrimination in their social, economic and political lives. They are not allowed to bring their family, including their wives, to Canada. As a result, the Chinese Canadian community became a “bachelor society”. Exclusion Act resulted in long period of separation of families. Many Chinese families did not reunited until years after the initial marriage, and in some cases they were never reunited.
  • The Chinese labourers struggled to make a living in Canada. Unskilled worker’s daily wage was from 5 cents to 10 cents, while skilled workers made about 20 cents a day. Their monthly salary was between $20 and $30. The family workers made between $10 and $30.
  • Stephen Harper’s minority government officially apologized for the Chinese Head Tax on June 22nd, 2006, promising to compensate all living Head Tax payers or their widows $20,000.
  • According to the statistics made by Chinese Canadian National Council, there were over 2,000 living Head Tax payer across Canada in 1984, however, in 2006, over 90 per cent of them passed away. Only 35 Head Tax payers and 391 widows were able to receive the compensation.
  • (Information from the website of the Chinese Canadian National Council)

  1. Sai Woo was located at the time at 130 Dundas St. West. it closed in 2000. 

Research Department

The Ties Between A House Boy And His Employer

May 22nd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

A tale of A Simple Life in Canada
A white female writer’s search in Taishan
A tribute to her servant’s unfinished dream

This piece by Lu Wong, who reports from Vancouver for Sing Tao, appeared in Sing Tao Daily on September 18th, 2010. You can also download it as a PDF (3.2 Mb). This translation is by Shan (Joanna) Qiao.

A tale of a man much like the one depicted in Hong Kong’s award-winning movie A Simple Life is happening here in Canada. Former Chair of The Writer’s Union of Canada Susan Crean started her trip to Taishan, China last year in search of the untold story of Wong Chong Wong, her family servant for 37 years.

Susan went to Yong Ning Village, Taishan, Guangdong province last September, hoping to meet with Wong’s descendants, find his family genealogy and learn his past as an orphan.

The relationship of Susan and Wong was as close as a family. She took care of Wong before he passed away a true reflection of the award-winning Hong Kong movie A Simple Life.

Susan says she will continue to search and collect Wong’s information and start to write stories of people like him and other family servants in Canada. She wants to unfold the hardship of Chinese labourers who came to Canada more than a century ago.

Serving the Crean family for four generations

67-year-old Susan is an acclaimed Canadian writer. She remembers that Wong was 50 years old when she was born. In her memory, Wong was no different than her family members.

Originally from Canton province, China, Wong paid head tax and came to Canada in 1911. With the help from his uncle Ru Wen Wong, he started working in Vancouver. He came to Toronto in 1917 and was hired by Susan’s grandfather in 1928. Wong started his lifelong work as a servant in Susan’s family then. He passed away in 1970 at the age of 75.

Last September when Sing Tao first told the story of Susan and Wong, many of our readers contacted Susan and provided her with useful information related to Wong and his family.

With the help from several Chinese Canadian history researchers and Vancouver friend Hou Ji Chen (Howe Chan), Susan started her trip to Wong’s birth place, a village called Yong Nian in Taishan. The only official documents identified Wong that Susan has were a piece of immigration paper issued by Canada government and the registration paper Chinese government issued to overseas Chinese in 1940.

Looking for the descendants in Canton Province

With the village head Jinhua Huang’s help, Susan learned that Wong’s father were died before he was born. His mother passed away two years after. Being an orphan, Wong was under the care of his uncle Ru Yun Wong and eventually followed his uncle’s footstep to Vancouver in 1911.

Wong went to Toronto in 1917. He met Susan’s grandfather and worked as cook and servant since then.

During her stay in Canton, Susan also visited the grandson of Wong’s uncle, Wen Xi Wong. With the help from Wong’s descendants and Hou Ji Chen, she found the genealogy book of Yong Nian village and Wong’s family.

On the genealogy book, it showed the name of Wong’s father as Ru Zhen Wong. Followed that line was the name of Wong, yet replaced by the character “和(he)”.

Looking at the old house Wong used to live, Susan was glad that she was able to pay the last tribute to Wong. With more stories of Chinese domestic workers to be heard, she will continue her research on this particular history of Chinese Canadian.

Sidebar I: Wealthy white family hired houseboy

According to writer Susan’s research, there were many Chinese flocked to Vancouver to build Canadian Pacific Railway between 1881 and 1885. They also created a new local industry, domestic servants. Discriminated by white people, they were generally called “Chinamen” or “houseboy”.

Most of the house servants came to Canada or America in their teenage ages. Not understanding any English, they were introduced to work at white families as cook helper, then they learned laundry, ironing, gardening and babysitting gradually at work. They managed to save some money from the meager earnings and sent back to their families in China.

Normally only wealthy families were able to hire houseboys in Canada. Hence this is one way to show the status of the family at that time. If the houseboy works well, he would be promoted from seasonal helper to a family servant that worked like a butler who takes responsibility to run the family.

Some family servants carefully saved their earnings and opened a restaurant or laundry store after they retired.

Sidebar II

Directed by Ann Hui, A Simple Life is an award-winning Hong Kong movie starring Andy Lau and Deanie Ip. Ah Tao is a family servant and nanny who started working for the Leung family when she was 13 years old. Six decades passed, she has served five generations. As time goes by, some family members passed away and some immigrated. She lives with Roger, the son and the only family members of the Leung.

Although two of them rarely talk, they enjoy the company of each other. One day Ah Tao unexpectedly suffers a stroke, Roger has to send her to senior house for more care. The strong relationship between the employer and his servant is slowly unveiled.

The movie was nominated for the Best Movie at the 68th Venice Film Festival in 2011. Deanie Ip won Best Actress at the Festival and has become the first Hong Kong actress who won the award.

Sidebar III: Remembered as a grandfather

Although discrimination against Chinese people was normal at the time when Susan grew up, she looked at Wong as one of her family members and asked him to be in her family photos. Whenever Susan misses Wong, she would take out the family photo to reminisce him.

“I literally grew up in Wong’s kitchen. He was like my grandfather and I enjoyed his company very much,” says Susan.

She remembers Wong was always around when she was little and let her ride on his shoulders. She even respected Wong as her grandfather and was never shy to show her fondness and curiosity to Wong.

Susan says that Wong cooked excellent food for the family and were good at making both western food and Chinese food. His bicycle repair skills were quite well known
In the neighbourhood. It was impressive to her that Wong was the type that never hesitates to offer help whenever needed.

Wong retired in 1964 and moved out to Chinatown. Susan and her sister Jennie visited him frequently.

“It was such a regret that the last time I talked to him was actually through a phone call. I regret that I was not able to see him when he died. I’ll always remember him like my grandfather,” says Susan.

Research Department

Chuck Wong’s Bibliography of Theses on Chinese Canadians

May 17th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Chuck Wong

Chuck C. C. Wong (pictured to the left) has been developing a comprehensive Chinese Canadian bibliography and here is the first fruits of his endeavour. Chuck is a retired university librarian and bibliophile who is active in the community as a director of the Wongs’ Association, Wong Kung Har Wun Sun, and the Metro Toronto Chinese Golden Age Society. This is the first completed section of his bibliography — a listing of all the graduate theses written for Canadian universities on Chinese Canadian subjects. He has others in the works on books by Chinese Canadian writers, and books written on Chinese Canadian subjects.

Chuck Wong

Chuck is my chief contact in Toronto’s Chinatown, a mine of information on the literature, and a seasoned guide to material in Chinese. He willingly agreed to share his work here. You are welcome to pass the link on to others.

You can download Chuck Wong’s Bibilography as either a MS-Word document (504Kb) or as a PDF (254Kb).

On this page:

Back to top ↑