Toddish McWong's Gung Haggis Fat Choy
Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinners
come to Victoria and Nanaimo!
I have long wanted to do a Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner in Victoria and Nanaimo. These are both significant cities in BC history for Scottish and Chinese pioneers.
Victoria Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner – January 22nd, Golden City Restaurant
Nanaimo Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner – January 23rd, Iron Wok Restaurant
Seating is limited, and by invitation only.
I want to create small intimate dinners that were like the first restaurant Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner of 40 people, which followed the initial dinner of 16 people in a living room. At the very first dinner, I invited friends – many of whom had Chinese or Scottish ancestry. Each guest was asked to bring a song or a poem from Chinese or Scottish culture, or help present a Robbie Burns Supper tradition. I cooked most of the Chinese dishes that were served. I made a lemon grass winter melon soup, stir-fried snow peas with scallops, steamed salmon with garlic and hot oil, sticky rice. Fiona brought the haggis. Rod picked up the lettuce wrap from Chinese take out. Gina made a noodle dish.
And in between each dinner course, we read a poem or sang a song. I read Recipe for Tea, from the Chinese-Canadian anthology “Swallowing Clouds,” written by my friend Jim Wong-Chu, which described how tea first came to the UK from China via Scottish traders.” Gloria read the Burns poem “To A Mouse”. Her friend gave a Toast to the Laddies. Gloria even hired a bagpiper! It was a wonderful evening… the first Burns Supper I ever attended. And I only learned about the elements of a Burns Supper, by going to the Vancouver Library where I worked, and asking for details at the reference desk.
Rev. Chan Yu Tan is 4th from the left, standing beside his elder brother Rev. Chan Sing Kai, at the 50th Anniversary of the Chinese United Church in Victoria.
Victoria was the first port of entry for all the Chinese immigrants coming across the Pacific Ocean by boat. It once was one of the largest Chinatowns in North America, and the oldest in Canada. My great-great-grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan arrived in Victoria in 1896, following his elder brother Rev. Chan Sing Kai, who came in 1891 to help found the Chinese Methodist Church, which later became the Chinese United Church. This has now been told in the CBC documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy.
Meanwhile, on my paternal grandfather, Wong Wah, also came to Victoria, as a sixteen year old in 1882. He worked in a Chinese dry goods store for his uncle, and later managed the store as it became one of Victoria's largest Chinese merchant stores.
Scottish influence is found throughout Victoria. It is as easy as the street names of Caledonia, Balmoral and Craigflower. The first governor of British Columbia James Douglas was schooled in Scotland, due to his Scottish father's influence, even though his mother was a creole free black. It was Robert Dunsmuir, born in Hurlford Scotland near the town of Kilmarnock, that became one of the richest men in North America by being a coal baron. Dunsmuir served as premier of BC, as did his son. Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, was built by Dunsmuir as a gift to his wife, but he died a year before it was completed.
Rev. Chan Yu Tan also ministered at the Chinese United Church in Nanaimo. From there, he would often travel to the mining town of Cumberland to also minister to the Chinese labourers there. It was coal baron Robert Dunsmuir that owned the coal mines around Cumberland and Nanaimo. During a general strike at the mines, Dunsmuir used Chinese labourers as strike breakers. Although it is now little more than a ghost town of a few remaining buildings, Cumberland was once one of Canada's largest Chinatowns – so big that it could sustain two Chinese opera houses. Author Paul Yee's new play Jade in Coal was set in Cumberland.
I am looking forward to creating inaugural Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinners
in both Victoria and Nanaimo, as I have so much family history in both cities. The Victoria dinner will follow the board meeting for The
Land Conservancy of BC. TLC executive director Bill Turner has attended
many Gung Haggis dinners in Vancouver, and our TLC Board Chair Alistair Craighead was born near Glasgow Scotland. Vice-Chair Briony Penn worked for the National Trust of Scotland many years ago, and helped create “Tam O'Shanter Experience” that was featured at the Robert Burns National Heritage Park, that has now built the Robert Burns National Birthplace Museum to replace the “Tam O'Shanter Experience.”
The Nanaimo dinner will be a joint-venture with my friend Shelagh Rogers, CBC broadcaster, who now hosts The Next Chapter on CBC radio. Shelagh has been organizing Reconciliation dinners between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people. Awhile back, she asked me about creating something similar to a Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dinner, which she co-hosted with me in 2005. I said, “How about a Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pow Wow Dinner” that could embrace all three pioneer cultures? And that is exactly what we will have on January 23rd. We are inviting friends with Chinese, Scottish and First Nations ancestry and culture and having a dinner. We shall see what people bring to the table in songs and poetry that will reflect our desire for cultural harmony and fusion, as well as reverence for our shared but distinctive past.
See pictures and story from Nanaimo Gung Haggis Fat Choy Pow Wow Dinner
A picture of Toddish McWong included in 150 of BC's historical and contemporary figures invited to “The Party” installation to help celebrated 150 years of BC History at the Royal BC Museum in 2008.