North Shore News: Canada's future includes head-tax descendants – by Todd Wong

North Shore News: Canada's future includes head-tax descendants – by Todd Wong

the opinion piece I wrote for the North Shore News.  I felt it was
important to share with North Shore readers that many prominent head
tax descendents live amongst them. 
This is also designed to be an
educational piece explaining the hardships and the effects of systemic
racial discrimination, and to highlight North Shore connections to the
Chinese community.  I wanted it to serve as a stand alone piece to

balance a previous June 2nd opinion piece that was ignorantly critical
of the Conservative government's decision to make an apology for the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act
Harper blunders with Head Tax Apology by Trevor Lautens in the North Shore News.  It had prompted a June 18th response from my friend Grace Wong Head Tax lessons not learned,
which explains how much suffering the Chinese pioneers had to go
through because of paying the exhorbitatn head tax, plus separation of
family due to both the head tax and the Exclusion Act.  
I removed any original references to Lautens from my original article –
as much as I wanted to put him in his place, crate him up and send him
back “where he came from.”   – Todd 

Trevor Lautens  June 2nd

Grace Wong's letter to NS NEWS  June 18th

Canada's future includes head-tax descendants

Todd Wong

Contributing Writer

My ancestors first arrived in Canada in 1888 and 1896.

They weren't railway
builders or gold seekers. My paternal grandfather, Wong Wah, was a
respected merchant in Victoria, and my maternal
great-great-grandfather, Rev. Chan Yu Tan, was a respected pastor for
the Chinese Methodist Church. My family has lived in North Vancouver
since 1974. I am a fifth-generation Chinese-Canadian head-tax

My name is Todd Wong, and
I am active on the B.C. Coalition for Head Tax Payers, Spouses and
Descendants. As well, I devote community service to the Save Kogawa
House campaign, the Asian Canadian arts community, and dragon boats. I
am also currently a director for the Canadian Club. Every September, I
speak at Terry Fox Runs as a Terry's Team member, serving as a living
example that cancer research has made a difference.

But I am better known
around the Lower Mainland as Toddish McWong – the creator of Gung
Haggis Fat Choy, a Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner, which is
increasingly recognized as a unique cultural fusion event, which also
inspired a CBC television performance special that aired in 2004 and

Multi-racial harmony and
understanding cultural diversity is important to me, and increasingly
important to both Canada and the North Shore.

It is unfortunate that so
many people criticize Chinese head-tax redress payments as wrong and a
burden on Canadian taxpayers. They say that head-tax descendants should
move on and “get over it.” But how can you move on, when it has been
ingrained over decades – over a lifetime – that you are inferior,
second-class, and worth less than white Canadians?

Both the
Japanese-Canadian and the Chinese-Canadian communities were victims of
the Anti-Asiatic League in the 1907 riots by white Canadians who
attacked both Chinatown and Japantown. Yes, the Chinese pioneers had a
choice to come to Canada, but being victimized by social and legislated
racism is not a choice.

Systemic racism continued
long after Chinese were finally given enfranchisement to vote in 1947.
They believed in the ideals that Canada stood for, equality and
fairness, despite understanding the notion of having a “Chinaman's
chance” in a court of law. The early pioneers learned to keep their
heads down, not make a fuss, and be “good Canadians.” Rev. Chan Yu Tan
emphasized that his family learn Canadian ways, and he successfully
appealed the wrongful conviction of Chinese houseboy Wong Foon Sing for
the murder of Scottish nanny Janet Smith.

My father taught me early
on that because I was born of Chinese heritage I had to work harder
than white people to prove myself equal. His elder brother graduated
near the top of his UBC engineering class, but was not hired. Chinese
were disallowed from being members of professional organizations
because they weren't allowed on voting lists until 1947, but racism
continued beyond that. Barred from living in West Vancouver's British
Properties, Chinese-Canadian pioneers and their descendants were
challenged to overcome the learned helplessness created in the face of

My mother remembers
taking the ferry as a child from Vancouver to North Vancouver and
having picnics in Mahon Park and Horseshoe Bay. The North Shore has a
rich and hidden Chinese-Canadian history, descended from those pioneers
who paid the head tax. They came to Canada like emigrants from
Scotland, England, France, Russia and Italy. Yet only the Chinese were
so unwanted and treated so badly that legislation was passed to create
an immigration deterrent called the Chinese Head Tax followed by the
outright banning of all Chinese immigration from 1923 until 1947 under
the Exclusion Act. It was the contributions of Chinese Canadian
veterans in the Second World War like my Uncle Dan and his brothers who
helped overturn it.

Not many Chinese lived
here in North Vancouver's early days, but gradually it would become
home to some of our greatest role models. Former North Shore resident
Bev Nann received the Order of British Columbia in 2001. Retired high
school teacher Bill Chow taught generations of students at Balmoral and
Windsor secondary schools. Donna Wong-Juliani has made incredible
contributions to the Vancouver-area arts scene. She both grew up and
still resides in West Vancouver. The granddaughters of Alexander Won
Cumyow, the first Chinese born in British Columbia, went to school with
me at Balmoral and Carson Graham. Next in line is my second cousin,
14-year-old Tracey Hinder, national CanSpell finalist last year in

The Chan family was
featured in the Chinese Cultural Centre exhibit Three Pioneer Chinese
Families in 2002, and we have just been approached by CBC television to
be the subject of one of their episodes for a future series titled
Generations. Our family contains two Miss Canada contestants (one
Caucasian, one Chinese). Cousin Rhonda Larrabee is chief of the Qayqayt
First Nations and her daughter lives on the Burrard Band Indian
Reserve. Rhonda jokes that her mother's side of the family lost their
land, while her father's side had to pay the head tax. Our family is
“so Canadian.”

But no government should
be allowed to profit from racism. Twenty-three million dollars was paid
to the Canadian government in blood, sweat and tears – above and beyond
what any other immigrant was forced to endure to become part of
Canada's society. The symbolic return of the $23 million should be
viewed as a tax refund which is simply 80 years in the making, albeit
without interest!

In 2004, The United
Nations asked Canada to make an apology and financial redress,
following New Zealand's example. Canada needed to make the apology so
that our country could move forward in its cultural and social
development. Financial redress is simply an important part of that
process. Future generations of multi-racial Canadians and head-tax
descendants need to know that Canada recognized its wrongs, and did not
refuse to make a fair and honourable redress while head-tax payers,
spouses and descendants were still alive. This is the legacy, not a
burden, which we leave to all our children and all their children.

We must believe that for the healing of our country – our inclusive, multicultural country – nobody should be left behind.

published on 06/25/2006

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