Research Department

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

September 12th, 2013 § 0 comments

Chin Muin Hahow,  Benefactor of A Hundred and Some People

by Howe Chan {陳厚基}

howechan@susancrean.ca

 

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.

 

 

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