Edmonton Journal: 110 year old head tax spouse (Alberta’s oldest person) dies

Edmonton Journal:

110 year old head tax spouse (Alberta’s oldest person) dies

This is a good story about the sacrifices and challenges the head tax payers made, and the costs of racial discrimination by the Canadian government because of the head tax and Exclusion Act.

Mrs. Mah is no longer “living” – so does she NO LONGER qualify for head tax redress?  But she was living on June 22nd, when the government apologized and presented the
redress package.  But what about the people that died the previous day, week, year or decades?

Fair and honourable means fair and honourable.  The present Chinese Canadian Redress package should do the same.  People paid the head tax from 1885 to 1923.  If a person was 20 years old in 1885, then they would be 141 years old today.  If they were 20 years old in 1923, they would be 103 today… and most likely they would want their children and
grandchildren to be able to enjoy the redress payment.


The redress package for Japanese Canadians included people who were interned and born up to or before 1947.  1947 was also the year that the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed.  Maybe the Chinese head-tax and Exclusion Act redress package should
include “One certificate – one payment” to the surviving representative descendant as long as they were born before 1947. Or given it is 22 years since the issue was first brought up in 1984, how about we set 1967 as the date.So if the head tax payer has died, their spouse had died, theirchildren have died… then a grandchild can recieve the symbolic “taxrefund” – as long as they were born before 1967.


Tuesday » June 27 » 2006


Alberta‘s oldest person dies
at 110

Raised children alone in wartime China,
finally joined husband here in 1958


Amber Shortt

The Edmonton

Tuesday, June 27, 2006



CREDIT: Chris Schwarz, the Journal, File

Mrs. Fong Ping Mah, who died Sunday, lived a long
and varied life.


Ping Mah lived in a bamboo hut at the end of the 1800s. She wore silk dresses in the ’20s and hid her family in caves when the Japanese occupied China during the Second World War.

When she died Sunday after nearly five decades of living in Edmonton, she was 110 — Alberta’s oldest person.

Family members sat by her bedside at Capital Care Norwood on Sunday, recounting their favourite stories of grandma and holding her hands as she slipped away due to pneumonia.

A stylish woman until her last day, Mrs. Mah would get weekly pedicures and never left her Norwood room without her lipstick and compact, said her granddaughter, Winnie Mah, 44.

“Always look your best and do your best,” Winnie said, recalling her grandmother’s advice. She said her grandfather used to take his wife shopping to Eaton’s to keep her in the latest styles.

“Like a little fashion plate, Granny was,” Winnie said with a laugh.

Mrs. Mah was nine years old when Alberta became a province in 1905. Last September, she met then-prime minister Paul Martin during Alberta’s centennial activities and fell asleep during the speeches.

Winnie said her grandmother’s greatest advice was just to have faith.

Mrs. Mah was born on Sept. 28, 1895, in Kwangtung province of southern China. Around
1920, she married Lip Gar Mah in an arranged marriage.

He had emigrated to Edmonton in 1910, doing menial jobs to make a living that would have been a small fortune in China. He was forced to pay a $500 head tax under Canadian law and leave his new
bride behind.

Mah visited his wife only every few years, but on those trips he built her a brick house, dressed her in style, fathered two daughters and adopted a son.

“They were considered well off,” Winnie said, since most houses in China were
built from wood or straw.

In 1923, the year their first child was born, Canada’s Chinese Immigration Act barred all Chinese immigrants from Canada and extinguished any hope of Mrs. Mah joining her husband.

But Winnie said her grandmother never gave up faith. “They just thought one day they will be together,” she said.

Mrs. Mah was left to raise her children alone.

When the Japanese invaded China in the 1930s, she hid her family in nearby caves.

“You could hear the bombing and they would flee to the mountains to hide,” Winnie said. “A lot of times (they) went hungry.”

As political turbulence in China grew, Mrs. Mah’s husband stayed in Canada, fearing conscription into the army.

When communists took control in 1949, they confiscated Mrs. Mah’s brick house. Her son, Jack, feared his mother would be put into forced labour and insisted they move to Hong Kong.

“Given their wealth, they were branded as capitalists,” Winnie said.

Mrs. Mah’s daughter-in-law sold 100 silk dresses to pay for safe passage.

Mrs. Mah was finally able to immigrate to Canada in 1958 and reunite with her husband in Edmonton.
The two had not seen each other for 19 years.

“It just became one long honeymoon for them afterwards,” Winnie said.

She said her grandparents lived a simple life in Edmonton. She would stay overnight and her
grandmother would set the table while her grandfather made waffles for breakfast. She always gave Winnie a special blue cup.

“She had a way of making us feel she loved us the most,” Winnie said. “Little did I know, all us kids used that special blue cup.”

After her husband died in 1985, Mrs. Mah lived alone until age 99.

At Norwood, she shared a room with her son, who had been partially paralyzed by strokes. She fed him and made him comfortable each day. He died in 2001 at the age of 72, said Winnie.

“She was the poster-mom for single moms at her age,” Winnie said. “She reminded us, don’t be so busy. Don’t forget what’s important.”

Mrs. Mah has 15 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and 17 great-great-grandchildren.


© The
Journal 2006


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