Category Archives: Rev. Chan Legacy Project

Chung Collection archives has a picture of my grandmother

My grandmother mentioned that there was a picture of her and her family in the Chung Collection, listed under Yip Sang family.

Children” are part of the 14 children that belonged to Kate &
Ernest Lee.  Kate was the eldest daughter of Rev. Chan Yu Tan.
the children were born in Canada.  My grandmother was born in Victoria
in 1910 – this July, she will celebrate her 102nd birthday.

back row:  (baby Ella?), Arthur, Howard, Mabel, Gordon, Esther, Helen, Henry

front row: Edith, Beatrice, Daniel and Ruth

Younger children not in picture or identified Leonard and Doug

Presently still surviving are:
Mabel, Ester, Helen, Edith, Ruth, Leonard and Doug

Helen Lee was a featured interview in the
CBC Documentary “Generations: The Chan Legacy
Mable Lee was a
featured interview in the NFB film “Tribe of One” – a movie about
Arthur's daughter Rhonda Larrabee, Chief of Qayqayt First Nations
Daniel Lee, has been featured in many films about Chinese Canadian veterans.
Edith and her husband's farm outside of Toronto was sold to become a parking lot for Wonderland Amusement Park
Gordon's son Gary, was also a featured interview in “Generations: The Chan Legacy
Daniel, and Leonard all served during WW2 for Canada.  Daniel was a
founder of Pacific Unit 280 veterans and received many veteran service
awards and medals. Here is a good story of his contributions.

You can browse the Chung Collection digital archives here:

Also Check out the Chung Collection blog:
they referenced my blog as having  “written some nice personal reminiscences and a round up of news articles here.”

Gung Haggis Vancouver dinner joined by new dinners in Victoria and Nanaimo

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.

Vancouver Sun features Heart in the City Festival – Generations: The Chan Legacy is the 1st event listed in “At A Glance”

Generations: The Chan Legacy” is the top feature of the Vancouver Sun's “Festival at a Glance”

The Chan Legacy – features the history of Chinese Canadians told
through 5 generations of descendants from Rev. Chan Yu Tan who arrived
in Canada in 1896, following his elder brother's footsteps to minister
to Chinese pioneers. Community service is a featured story in each generation of this CBC documentary.

7:30pm  Thursday Oct 28

Chinese Cultural Centre Museum 555 Columbia.

I attended the Opening Gala for the Heart of the City Festival 2pm at Carnegie Centre.  Special guest was Lt. Gov. Steven Point.  He was very funny and serious, sharing stories about his first visits to Main & Hastings as a young law student. 
This pictures features the Carnegie Jazz Band playing “Sweet Georgia Brown

Great news – Vancouver Sun ran a story on the front page their Arts Section.  They featured a sidebar story “At a Glance” and the first event listed is Generations: The Chan Legacy!

news on celebrities, music, theatre reviews, television, local TV
listings guide, books and contests. Read Vancouver Sun to get current
news on entertainment in Vancouver.,To many people the Downtown Eastside
is an intimidating place: a dangerous, dirty, drug-infested 'hood

Generations: The Chan Legacy documentary to be shown Oct 28 at Heart of the City Festival

Great news for BC history and genealogy buffs.  The CBC documentary about the Rev. Chan Family descendants is being shown at Heart of the City Festival on Oct 28.

Film & Conversation
REV. CHAN FAMILY LEGACY: Five Generations of Vancouver

History 1888 to 2007

Thursday October 28, 7:30pm
Chinese Cultural
Centre Museum & Archives, 555 Columbia

The Chan family
first came to Canada to help start the Chinese Methodist Church and
every generation since has made contributions to Canadian society. In
2007, filmmaker Halya Kuchmij interviewed members of one of the oldest
families on the West Coast and made a documentary about the stories and
achievements of Reverend & Mrs. Chan, their sons Luke Chan
(Hollywood actor) and Jack Chan (golfer); grandchildren Helen Lee and
Victor Wong (WW2 veteran); great-grandchildren Gary Lee (entertainer)
and Janice Wong (artist); and great-great grandchildren Todd Wong
(community and cultural activist) and Tracey Hinder (high school
student). The many turns of the Chan family reflect the challenges of
exclusion, the fight for rights, the strength of family and citizenship,
and the right to vote. The festival is pleased to show The Chan
, directed by Halya Kuchmij, from the CBC Learning
Generations Series (2007, 43:37) and we are fortunate to have Todd Wong
moderate the conversation afterwards. Todd is a descendent of Reverend
Chan and the creator of Gung Haggis Fat Choy, the annual celebration of
Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Day ( –
an event that marries two cultures that once lived completely separate
in the early days of British Columbia. Everyone welcome. Free

This was the lead show in the CBC Generations series that aired
on July 4th 2007.  The purpose was to interview multigenerational families across Canada, and help tell the story of Canada through the lives of that family.

I am a 5th generation great-great-grand son of Rev. Chan Yu Tan, and one of the featured stories.  My grandmother's sister Helen Lee and cousin Victor Wong are both interviewed and tell stories about their grandparents Rev. & Mrs. Chan Yu Tan, whom they respectively lived with and visited as children.  

Victor Wong is a WW2 veteran and shares stories about becoming a soldier for Special Forces operations with his cousins Howard and Leonard Lee, while Dan Lee was one of the first Chinese Canadians in the Airforce.  All this happened at a time when Canadians of Chinese ancestry were not allowed to vote in Canada, until after the Chinese-Canadian veterans returned from WW2 and lobbied the Canadian government to repeal the 1925 Chinese Exclusion Act.

Gary Lee, also tells stories about Rev. Chan's sons Luke Chan, who became an actor in Hollywood, and Jack Chan – an avid golfer and the first Chinese Canadian to serve on jury duty.

Artist Janice Wong is shown working and attending book launches for her recipe/memoir book “Chow: From China to Canada: Memories of Food + Family”
– which shares the history of the Rev. Chan family through her father Dennis Wong, chef of Chinese restaurants in Sasketchewan, son of the Rev's daughter Rose, and Victor's brother.

13 year old Tracey Hinder is seen winning the inaugural Vancouver area Canspell contest.  Tracey goes on to compete at the National Canspell in Ottawa and the Scripps in Washington DC.  Tracey is interviewed as a high school student, dedicated to learning about her community and family histoy.

Todd Wong is a community and cultural activist, known for creating Gung Haggis Fat Choy Robbie Burns Chinese New Year Dinner.  Excerpts from the CBC produced television performance special “Gung Haggis Fat Choy” are shown along with Todd's community commitments including the saving of the Historic Joy Kogawa House, Terry Fox Run, and dragon boat racing.

5 of the 7 part series are available for for sale through the CBC Learning Division
Chan Legacy

McCurdy Birthright

Crowfoot Dynasty

Years in Alberta

Years in Saskatchewan

My Grandmother turns 100 years old today.

My grandmother turns 100 years old today.

2010_July_Granny-Birthday 026

Mabel Lee was born July 4th, 1910, in Victoria BC.  Her grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan came to Canada in 1896 to serve at the Chinese Methodist Church, which had been co-founded by his elder brother Rev. Chan Sing Kai in 1888.

2010_July_Granny-Birthday 004
Granny with our family:
Me Todd, Dad Bill, Mom Betty, Granny Mabel, brother Marke, niece Chloe, sis-in-law Shanda, nephew Cohen

My grandmother has lived through two world wars. She lived through the Chinese Head
Tax era, and the1923 Chinese Exclusion Act.

She welcomed 3
brothers and a cousin home who served in WW2, who were first not allowed to join the Canadian Forces, even though they wanted to fight for the country they were born in.

She couldn't vote in the country
she was born in until she was 37 years old, after the Exclusion Act was
appealed in 1947 – because up until then, she was
considered a resident alien.

She has watched her grand-children become: Miss Canada runner-up, TV
news reporter, BC Lions Cheerleader, lawyer, RCMP officer, Calgary city
councilor, killer-whale habitat warden, mining environment consultant,
and then there's me… Toddish McWong,

One niece is Chief of the Qayqayt First
Nations.  And my Granny was interviewed for the the NFB film documentary Tribe of One, about Rhonda Larrabee.

My Grandmother had 3 siblings… 4 sisters and 2
brothers are still very much alive.

She has 22 great-grand-children, and 4

She appeared with me in the 2004 CBC television performance special Gung Haggis Fat Choy, along with my parents, girlfriend and friends. 

In 2007, CBC created a TV
documentary about her grandfather and family descendant history titled Generations: The Chan Legacy.  We used family home movies that showed my grand mother and her siblings at their mother Kate Lee's 75th birthday party.

Granny was always an inspiration and very
encouraging of me for playing my accordion. She would even listen to me
on the phone, while I practiced.

For Granny's 90th birthday, I
organized a Rev. Chan Family Reunion in 2000. She joined our simulated
Chinese Robbie Burns Day Dinner in the 2004 CBC television performance
special: Gung Haggis Fat ChoySee more. I wrote about her influence on my cooking
and heritage in the 2007 book Eating Stories: Chinese Canadian and
Aboriginal Pot Luck.

Daniel Lee Rest in Peace, 1920 – January 26, 2010

Daniel Lee 1920 – January 26, 2010 

2009_Nov_Remembrance_Day 087 by you.
Daniel Lee saluting at
the November 11, 2009 Remembrance Day ceremony in Vancouver Chinatown. 
The Chinese Canadian veterans always attended the Victory Square
Cenotaph ceremonies, which Dan Lee also helped to organize, then they
would go to Foo's Ho Ho Restaurant to stay warm, before organizing the
Chinatown ceremonies at 12:30pm – photo Todd Wong

be a good citizen you got to start at home. Otherwise, a nation is just
like a family.
Everybody got to be happy at home otherwise the nation
would be in trouble.”

– Daniel Lee

With sorrow… we share the news that Grand-Uncle Daniel Lee passed away this morning of January 26th, 2010.  He had been in the Burnaby Hospital since Wednesday.  His daughter Grace,  she said it was quite sudden – his going into the hospital.  I had been receiving reports from my mother Betty, as her mother Mabel (Dan's oldest sister at 99 years old) was visiting the hospital each day.

Uncle Dan was born the 11th child of 14, the 5th son of seven to jeweler Ernest Lee, and Kate Chan Lee – the 2nd child, and 1st daughter of Rev. Chan Yu Tan.  As a young child he spent some time living in Nanaimo with his grandparents Rev. and Mrs. Chan Yu Tan, after the early death of his father.

When Dan was 20 years old he tried to enlist in the Canadian Army, but was turned away because at that time they did not allow any Chinese Canadians.  Instead, he went to aircraft mechanics school in Toronto and graduated two years later.  By 1942, Chinese were allowed into the Army due to pressure from Great Britain.  Dan Lee was one of the the first Chinese-Canadians accepted into the Canadian Air Force.  Soon, he was joined in England, by his brothers Howard and Leonard, plus cousin Victor Wong, who were enroute to the Pacific Theatre to serve with the Army special forces.

In the years after WW2, Dan Lee and his fellow Canadian born veterans would continue to face racial discrimination and prejudice.  The were not allowed to join any of the existing Canadian Legions for veteran soldiers.  They turned to the oldest veteran organization, the Army, Navy, Air Force Vets of Canada and were accepted to form their own unit – Pacific Unit 280.  After
WW2, he and his fellow veterans and good friend Roy Mah, petitioned the
Canadian Government to gain voting rights for Chinese Canadians, and
also to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act.  This was accomplished in

  Generations Chan Legacy 161 by you.

But the challenges weren't over yet.  Every year Uncle Dan
would write a letter to Ottawa asking for an apology for the Chinese
head tax and exclusion act.  The Chinese head tax redress movement took on a larger significance after MP Margaret Mitchell brought the issue up in Parliament in 1984, and also when Prime Minister Mulroney apologized to Japanese Canadians in 1988 for the the government's interning of them during WW2.

In the 1980's, Dan Lee would continue to work head tax apology issue.  With Douglas Jung, a former veteran, lawyer, Member of
Parliament, and the Chinese Benevolent Association, they proposed that a
national organization be formed to deal with the Head Tax issue.  Dan Lee became one of the founders of the National
Congress of Chinese Canadians(NCCC) and a national conference was held.  After many years, an apology was finally made in Canadian Parliament by Prime Minister Harper in 2006.

In 1998, the Chinese Canadian Military Museum was founded.  Dan Lee's air force uniform was one of the first displays.

2009_Nov_CCMM_Dinner 037

Chinese Canadian Military Museum Dinner November 7, 2009
top row: Bryan Larrabee, grand-nephew Todd Wong, Padre Wesley Lowe
bottom row: niece Rhonda Larrabee, Daniel Lee, sister Mabel Mar

In 1999, we held the first Rev. Chan Legacy Family Reunion.  Uncle Dan was a consultant for the committee.  At the reunion, it was Dan Lee who gave the Elder Address, as he talked about his grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan. 

In 2002, the Rev. Chan Yu Tan family was featured in the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum exhibit “Three Canadian Chinese Pioneer Families”  – pictures of Uncle Dan and the contributions of himself and his brothers and cousin were included.  

In 2007, Dan Lee is one of the lead stories in the film documentary Heroes Remember, produced by the Chinese Canadian Military Museum.

Dan Lee's dedication to community service is exemplary.  In 2004, Dan Lee received the Award of  Merit from Dominion Command.  It is one of the highest honours a veteran can receive.  Uncle Dan told me that to receive an Award of Merit, you must first receive the Medal for
Appreciation, which he received in 1987.  In 1999 he next
received the Award for Service.

And through all these years, Uncle Dan would sell poppies in downtown Vancouver for Remembrance Day, and help organize the Poppy Drive every November.  He was one of the best sellers.  He was also one of the organizers of the Victory Square Cenotaph Remembrance Day ceremonies.  In 2004, Remembrance Day ceremonies began at the Canadian Chinese Pioneer Monument in Chinatown.  The veterans of Unit 280 would attend both Victory Square and Chinatown ceremonies, even if it was raining and cold.

The contributions that Dan Lee made, will last and be remembered, while he will be missed.

We offer support and love to Uncle Dan, his wife Irene, and their children Vincent and Grace.

Peace & Blessings to all, Todd Wong – Vancouver

2009_Nov_CCMM_Dinner 057 by you.

Chinese Canadian Military Museum Dinner November 7, 2009
with fellow veterans of Pacific Unit 280 + Ujjal Dosanjh MP.


As part of his commitment to community, Dan annually organized the poppy campaign in Vancouver. It's not surprising
he was a top-seller. For his community efforts Dan has received many
veteran honours, such as the Award of Appreciation, and Award for
Service – but none higher than the Award of Merit from Dominion Command
in 2004. It's a fitting tribute to the grandson who evidently learned
his values and strong faith in community from his Methodist Church
pioneer, Grandfather Chan Yu Tan.

See VIDEO of Daniel Lee from the Chinese Canadian Military Museum
Lee, one of three brothers to join the war effort, worked as an
aircraft mechanic and went on to a career of dedicated community
service in Canada.

Daniel Lee 1920-2010

Daniel Lee 1920-2010  – picture album on Flickr

Chinese Canadian veterans lead Remembrance Day ceremony in Vancouver Chinatown

Uncle Daniel Lee is colour guard for Pacific Unit 280 at the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Chinese Canadian Pioneer Monument in Vancouver Chinatown
2009_Nov_Remembrance_Day 087 by you.
Uncle Daniel Lee salutes, as photographer Patrick Tam takes pictures.  Larry Wong stands to Lee's right.

2009_Nov_Remembrance_Day 081

Chinese Canadian veterans stand during singing of O Canada.

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The Chinese Benevolent Association organized the Remembrance Day ceremonies this year in Chinatown.  President Mike Jang officiated.

2009_Nov_Remembrance_Day 103
Little Beavers and Wolf Cubs took part in the ceremonies

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Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and city councilors Ellen Woodsworth and George Chow lay the wreath from City of Vancouver.

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Members of Parliament Ujal Dosanjh, Don Davies and Libby Davies stand in front of the representatives from HMCS Discovery.

2009_Nov_Remembrance_Day 115

Frank Wong, who stormed the Normandy Beaches on D-Day speaks to Chinese language TV News, while his brother Bing Wong's grandchildren are in the foreground, as I talk with their dad and grandfather.

2009_Nov_Remembrance_Day 110

Larry Wong and Howard Chan.  Howard is a WW2 veteran.  Larry is curator of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum.

Dalai Lama in Calgary: meets my cousin Johnee Wong Smedley

Dalai Lama in Calgary: meets great-great grandson of Rev. Chan Yu Tan m

My cousin's son Johnee Wong Smedley lives in Calgary.  He has studied martial arts and Asian philosophy, as ways to connect with his Asian heritage.  We reconnected this summer at my grandmother's 99th birthday.  Johnnee was last in Vancouver in 2000 when we held a Rev. Chan family reunion.  Today he met the Dalai Lama.

Here is a story from my cousin Johnee Wong Smedley in Calgary:

Today is a milestone for me in my life as of late; I volunteered on my
day off to work a special event. I just signed up for the extra hours
and was in for a great surprise! I mean something I was not ever

Here is the heart of the day.

His Holiness
the Dalai Lama is the wisest of the wise; his heart is so pure I had
tears in my eyes. When he spoke his compassion was with out words. He
is humble and sincere. I cried when he gave me some advice.

simply said, “No matter how hard ife becomes or how dark you may feel
always remember two things. Love unconditionally yourself and all of
humanity. The second is to breathe. Breathe love into yourself when you
breathe in; when you breathe out breathe out love unto the world.”

put his warm, strong, yet gentle hands onto my heart and said, “YES,
Just like that.” He smiled again a big smile and said “Thank you for
being here with me today.” I replied, “Your Holiness it is my deepest
honor to serve you.” and thanked him for his wisdom and heart felt

He hugged me then went on stage to greet his audience,
his speech and his words to me made me weep. At lunch he said “You have
great love in your heart, the world needs more men with such love to
give.” I bowed deeply and said “I serve humanity.”

Other then
those personal moments with him the remainder of the day was small talk
of events through out the day with his advisors, RCMP officers, K-9
handlers, security officers, audio/video production staff, and event

The experience was so deep and powerful for me, not a single word can describe my day with his Holiness.

is moments like these that make you take a long hard look within and
see who and what you truly are. Honestly, I have not liked myself in a
very long time. My life fell to pieces, I could not accept where my
life ended up in the last year. I’ve been unhappy and dissatisfied and
became extremely bitter to myself and to those I have loved and cared

After today, I can now look upon myself with hope and
inspiration. It is amazing how the words of one man can have such a
significant impact on me on every level. I wish love upon the world and
will try my best to be the inspiration he shared with me today. I
commit myself to loving everyone with respect and dignity. Finally I
can be at peace with myself.

Georgia Straight: Why Canada will never have an Obama, except maybe Todd Wong

2008_Dec 033 by you.

I didn't expect to be in the same Georgia Straight Headline as Obama… but maybe because it's because I am a person of colour?

re: Why Canada will never have an Obama, except maybe Todd Wong

I told the Georgia Straight's Pieta Woolley –
that it was author Terry Glavin who first told me about bi-racial Gov. James
vision for a British Columbia that could welcome people from
every corner of the world… that it was Douglas who invited Black
Americans from San Francisco when he heard that were being
discriminated against…

BC's history is not the two solitudes
of English and French – but it is the 3 pioneer cultures of First
Nations, Scottish, and Chinese.  But we have had to go through the
Potlatch Law, the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, the Komagata
Maru, the Internment of Japanese Canadians – before we could understand
ourselves and our future.

has taken 150 years for us to finally understand the multicultural/
intercultural vision that Douglas wanted for BC, instead of BC as a
“White Man's Province” in the years that followed Douglas.

The Obama presidency in the United States is historic.  He has a vision to bring people together, to move beyond racial divides, perceived stereotypes and the cultures of blame and “otherness.”

My own life views have been shaped by growing up as a multi-generational racial minority in Canada.  I have learned about the discrimination and hatred faced and overcome by my ancestors, since the time my maternal great-great-grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan arrived in 1896, as a Methodist lay preacher for the Chinese Methodist Church of Canada.  Similarly, my paternal grandfather also faced many challenges arriving in Canada in 1882 at the young age of 16.

But I have also learned about the importance of communities working together.  My life path has involved me with many community organizations such as Canadian University Press, Hope Cancer Health Centre, Terry Fox Run Organization, Canadian Mental Health Association, Chinese Cultural Centre, Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens, Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop, Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, and many many more.

In the past few years, I have learned much about Robert Burns' views on social justice, equality, political change, speaking up for others, love of life.  These are as important today as there were 250 years ago in Burns' time, or 150 years ago in Douglas' time.  Maybe it's actually more important today, because we have the choice to embrace our responsibilities or to take them for granted.  We have the choice today, to choose to be selfish or community minded.  We have the choice today –  not tomorrow – not yesterday, but the choice is today –  to make a difference or not.

Why Canada will never have an Obama, except maybe Todd Wong

Yesterday (January 20), the world’s most powerful man placed his hand on Lincoln’s Bible and became the 44th president of the U.S. Next week, on a dark day in Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government will present a budget, and a coalition led by Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton, and Gilles Duceppe might take the opportunity to bring it down.

While the U.S. has its super-leader, Canada has the old, clichéd
“crisis in leadership”. Looking south, it’s easy to feel, well, a
little jealous.

So, who is Canada’s Barack Obama? Who can lead us out of years of deadlocked minorities?

I argue that not only is an Obama figure not waiting in the wings; he or she simply can’t exist here.

Here’s why: Obama represents the high-minded ideals of the 1791 U.S.
Bill of Rights, while Canada treats our history like yesterday’s soup

Americans love their history. In his inaugural speech—really, in every
speech—Obama took every opportunity to join his personal story to the
greater story of the United States. It’s an easy connection to make.
For Canada to breed an Obama, we have to have a better picture of what
Canada means, and promote someone who’s comfortable tying his or her
own story to Canada’s not-always-glorious history.

As a kid, Obama grew up without a dad around, in relative obscurity. He
is the biracial son of an African immigrant and a white-bread Kansas
hippie, and was raised by his grandmother in Hawaii. Now he’s
president. That speaks to opportunity.

Think quick: what document was Canada built on? If you guessed the British North America Act of 1867, you’re right. It’s not exactly stirring stuff.

Frankly, it would be difficult to know if someone came along who
represented the early ideals of Canada. He or she must speak English
and French and respect the authority of the Queen’s representative, but
apart from that, it’s pretty fuzzy.

So who is Canada’s Obama? Justin Trudeau’s name
has been floated, but there’s a couple of problems. First, he’s
Canadian royalty—the son of a prime minister, he has been immersed in
privilege forever. Second, he’s a white guy. Third, he hasn’t
established a career for himself yet, beyond teaching high school
French. Sure, he’s a young dad, charismatic, attractive, and extremely
well-spoken, but he’s already entrenched in party politics. And that is
Obama’s magic. He seemingly came out of nowhere.

Here’s my nominee for an Obama in Canada: Todd Wong, the founder of Gung Haggis Fat Choy.

The wildly charismatic Vancouverite is a leader in bridging cultures
in an unpretentious, original way. His Gung Haggis Fat Choy event has
been replicated all over the world. A fifth-generation Chinese
Canadian, Wong also lobbied to save Joy Kogawa’s childhood home and for head-tax redress. He organizes dragon-boat teams.

But what’s sold me on Wong as Canada’s Obama is that he’s a Vancouver
library assistant. It’s a humble job, but it’s a little like Obama’s
background as a community organizer. At least the way Wong does it.

On the picket line in 2007, he played his accordion and organized a strike reading series with Hiromi Goto, Stan Persky,
and others. At Gung Haggis Fat Choy, politicians from every party come
out for deep fried haggis wontons. He describes the event, to be celebrated this year on January 25 at Floata Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown, as something that “represents Canada in the 21st century”.

“Anyone in that room could be part of your family,” he told the Straight.

Here’s where it falls apart. Wong has no interest in politics.

“If I get into politics, I wouldn’t be able to do the kind of community service work I do now,” he told the Straight.

That may be true, Todd. But I, for one, think that as prime minister
you could be one wicked Obama-esque orator, reinvigorate our connection
to history, and offer a fresh face to represent the new Canada.

So, how about it?

Chinese Canadians that inspired me in 2008

I am always amazed by the talents, dedication and accomplishments of the people that I know and see in our communities.   While
2008 was a year for me blessed with personal recognition from the
Province of BC, and the Royal BC Museum, I am inspired by the people that I know.

2008 recipients group photo
2008 BC Community Achievement Award recipients: 45
of BC’s most dedicated citizens stand with Premier Gordon Campbell and
Lt. Gov. Stephen Point, and BC Achievement Foundation Chair Keith
Mitchell, following the ceremonies. I can be spotted wearing my cream
jacket directly behind Premier Campbell.  I am standing between my
Vancouver arts community friends Naomi Singer on my left, and Savannah
Walling on my right,T
erry Hunter is immediately behind Savannah.  Also on my left is fellow kilt wearer Gordon Barrett in his Irish Pipes and Drums uniform – too bad you can’t see our kilts.

2008 raised the first real possibility of Vancouver’s first
Chinese-Canadian mayor with Raymond Louie running for the mayoral
nomination of the Vision Vancouver party.  Former SFU wrestler Carol
Huynh won Canada’s first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.
Octogenarian Bill Wong, was the subject of a CBC documentary film
“Tailor Made.”

In August, I attended the 150 Years in Golden Mountain Gala in
Victoria, where my grand-uncles Daniel Lee and Victor Wong received the
awards on behalf of Chinese Canadian veterans.  I also stood with them
as descendants of Rev. Chan Yu Tan (my great-great-grandfather and
their grandfather) who received a community achievement award for this
work as a pioneer missionary for Chinese communities in BC.

Last year I wrote:
Chinese-Canadians that inspired me in 2007

Here is a list of the Chinese-Canadians that I found inspiring in 2008:

The Royal BC Museum created an exhibit to celebrate 150 years of BC
History and BC people, called “Free Spirit”.  They also created a
life-size photo collage display called “The Party“to
which they invited 150 of BC’s most interesting people.  The first 132
people were selected by the museum, then in August six invitees were
“voted in” including myself.  More people were voted in for November.

Check out “The Party” display at the Royal BC Museum

Cindy Lee (T&T)
Hon. David Lam
James Cheng (architect)
Peter Joe  (Sunrise Tofu)
Tong Louie
Todd Wong
Ida Chong MLA
Carol Huyhn Olympic Gold Medalist

Adrienne Wong is an actor.  In 2008 she starred in the one woman play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” for Neworld Theatre.  It opened in Montreal than played in Vancouver to packed houses for an extended run.

Rhonda Larrabee is my mother’s cousin. Rhonda single-handedly re-established the Qayqayt “New Westminster” First Nations Band.  Unfortunately she wasn’t included in the CBC documentatry Generations: The Chan Legacy, because the executive producer thought that Rhonda’s story really deserved her own documentary.  Surprise!  CTV made a documentary on Rhonda titled “One Women Tribe”

Bill Wong Modernize Tailors – Bill is the octogenarian former UBC Engineering grad who couldn’t get hired in post-war Canada because of racism, so he put his energies into his father’s tailor shop.  Tailor Made is the CBC documentary about Chinatown’s Modernize Tailors featuring brothers Bill and Jack Wong and their family story.

and Jack’s younger brother Milton Wong is one of Vancouver’s important
figures, and former chancellor of SFU, and known as the “grandfather of
dragon boat racing” in Vancouver.  Both Milton and Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragonboat team member Steven Wong (son of Bill Wong) were interviewed for a German public television documentary


Tailor Made: CBC TV documentary highlights Modernize Tailors’ 80 year history in Vancouver Chinatown

Grace Chin is a writer/actor.  She wrote and performed in “The Quickie” is very Vancouver play about diversity and expectations in relationships.  Last year was her first written theatre play with partner Charlie Cho.  “The Quickie” is written solo by Grace.  Wow… now if only I could get my own writing projects off the back burner!

Brandy Lien-Worrall – In 2007 Brandy led 2 writing workshops which produced the book Eating Stories: Chinese and Aboriginal pot luck.  She also bravely battled breast cancer.
Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC honours Brandy Lien-Worrall

Wayson Choy wrote a new autobiography titled Not Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying. In 2002, I met Wayson when his novel Jade Peony was the inaugural choice for the One Book One Vancouver program.  I was on the committee, where I learned that Wayson had almost died earlier that year.  We were so fortunate that Wayson’s health recovered, and that he has written two more splendid books sinced.  The Governor General Award nominated “All That Matters” and now his memoir “Not Yet.”
Wayson Choy gives “spirited” reading for Vancouver Cultural Olympiad

Chinese-Canadians are top Canadians figure skaters! Patrick Chan and Mira Leung
Patrick Chan, the 17 year old teenager who is Canada’s current reigning
Men’s National winner  finished ninth in his World Championships
debut.  Chan only last year had won silver at the World Junior
Championships, and last November won gold at the Grand Prix in Paris.
Mira Leung finished 14th.

Wallace Chung donated his personal collection to UBC.  He is a philanthropist, and recipient of Order of Canada and Order of BC… and he loves Chinese Canadian history.  Check out this Vancouver Sun story about the Wallace Chung Collection at UBC.  $5 million, 25,000 items and UBC = a collection with special meaning

Raymond Louie – ran for the Vision Vancouver’s mayor nomination in the spring  – and in the fall he was nominated for a NAAAP award.  I endorsed Raymond for his nomination: Todd Wong supports Raymond Louie’s campaign to be Vancouver Mayor. Raymond came second to Gregor Robertson for the mayor nomination, and on November 15th, he was re-elected to Vancouver City Council with the highest number of votes for councilors.


Dr. Kerry Jang ran for City Councilor.  He is a hard-working community builder, who is also on a national committee for Mental Health, and a professor of Psychiatry at the UBC School of Medicine. It was easy to give my endorsement for Kerry.  In 2006 he was named academic of the year.  In 2007, he was named to the BC Community Achievement Award.  In 2008, he was elected a rookie Vancouver city councilor.

Joyce Lam‘s Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre put on the Neil Simon play “The Odd Couple” with an all Asian + 1 cast.  And she continues producing the annual Asian Comedy Night and  Etch-YOUR-SketchOFF
Odd Couple – Friendship with an Asian style twist on the Neil Simon play

check out

Victoria celebrates 150 years of Chinese Canadian History with a grand dinner and awards.
It was a grand party at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, organized by the Victoria Chinatown Commerce Association.  My great-great-grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan was awarded a Community Achievement Award. and my grand-uncles Daniel Lee and Victor Wong represented the Chinese-Canadian veterans for their special award.

In Memoriam:

Ed Wickberg
Ed Wickberg is known in our community circles as an honourary Chinese Canadian.  He was a professor emeritus for the UBC History department.  He contributed so much to the understanding of Chinese Canadian history and was the founding president for the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC.

Betty Ho
I met Betty during the writing workshops for the Chinese Canadian Historical Society.  Our contributions were published together in the anthology Eating Stories.  She always brought smiles and great positive energy wherever she sent.
Betty Ho goes to that big kitchen in the sky.