CBC Generations and the Rev. Chan Yu Tan family

It's great to know where you family came from, who you are descended from, and what nice people are in your extended family.  I really am blessed to belong to the Rev. Chan Yu Tan family descendants.

The past 2 days, I have been busy introducing CBC producer Halya Kuchmij to members of the family, who will be interviewed or featured in an episode of Generations: The Chan Legacy.  Halya is an multiple award wining veteran producer, working CBC projects such as Man Alive, The Journal, and now the Documentary Film Unit – where she produced Life and Times of Northern Dancer, Who's Lorne Greene, Tom Jackson: The Big Guy, Chernobyl the Legacy, Mandela I & II, and many many more.

Generations is a fantastic CBC television program, that shows this history of Canada, through the experiences of a family's generations.  So far there have been 3 shows: 

Generations: 100 Years in Alberta (The Hamdon/Shaben family – when two Lebanese peddlers came to Alberta)

Generations: 100 Years in Saskatchewan ( Martin and Alma Hjertaas settled in Saskatchewan in 1915 and the homestead in Wauchope is still in the family)

The Crowfoot Dynasty (A Hundred Years on the Siksika Reserva)
Strater Crowfoot has been the Chief of the Siksika Reserve for half of
the last two decades. Siksika is a Blackfoot Nation in Southern Alberta
and one of the largest Reserves in Canada.

Tuesday:  10am.  Halya and I meet at her hotel.  After many e-mails and phone calls. I like her at first smile.  It's the start of a wonderful friendship.  In between the many appointments we will have, small comments and gestures are appreciated.  The story arc that Halya senses is one of community service.  It begins with Rev. Chan Yu Tan arriving in Canada in 1896 as a Methodist lay preacher, serving the Chinese community in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo and New Westminster.  It is carried through by many generations of his descendants, as they too, seek to build bridges between their Chinese culture and mainstream White Canadian culture, despite years of racism and adversity.

We go to the Goldstone restaurant in Vancouver Chinatown for some coffee and pastries.  She picks two different coconut pastries, and we share.  A gentleman comes to ask about the picture display of the Rev. Chan family that look at set up on the table beside us.  He has only been in Canada for 5 years, originally leaving Vietnam with the US withdrawal because he worked at the US embassy.

11am We meet Col. Howe Lee at the Chinese Canadian Military Museum.  Howe is the perfect person to give us a tour.  It was his idea to develop the military museum, and he was on the board of the Chinese Cultural Centre when the CCC Museum and Archives was being built (incidently designed by my architect cousin Joe Wai).  Howe gives us an introduction to the “Three Chinese-Canadian Pioneer Families” story boards left over from the 2002-2003 exhibit that had featured the Rev. Chan family, along with the Lee-Bick and H.Y. Louie families.  We are joined by my mother's cousin Gary Lee, who co-chaired the Rev. Chan Legacy Reunions with me for 1999 and 2000.

Upstairs, Howe gives a tour of the Military Museum, explaining the adversity and racism Chinese Canadians faced in joining the Canadian military, and how it was the British Military's need for Chinese soldiers to go behind enemy lines in the Pacific Theatre that finally allowed Chinese in the Canadian military.  Howe emphasizes the special combat units named Force 162, and Operation Oblivion that were sent to India and Burma.  My grand uncle Victor Wong was in Force 136.  My grandmother's brothers Uncles Daniel Lee, and his brothers Howard and Leonard went to England.  We see Uncle Dan's Air Force Uniform on display.  There is a picture with Uncle Leonard, with his buddies during the war.

In particular, Howe explains how the Chinese Canadian veterans were instrumental in helping to gain franchisement and the right to vote for the Chinese community. It is also the veterans that have also helped to lead the fight for redress of the Chinese Head Tax and the Exclusion Act, that finally came to and apology, community funds and indvidual payments on June 22, 2006.

12pm  Halya, Gary and I have lunch at the Ho Ho Restaurant.  It is a restaurant that I grew up with and specializes in old time Cantonese style food.  Gary talks about his father Gordon Lee, who had started up Lee's taxi with his brother Art. We also learn about Gary's entertainment history.  As a child actor, he appeared in an episode of the early television show Rin Tin Tin, with Keye Luke (known for his role in Kung Fu).  Gary was also locally known as “The Chinese Sinatra” as he performed on the local night club scene. Gary has also done a lot of community service work with many years spent as a Lion's Club member, even starting up the Westside Lion's Club.

2pm  Halya and I go back to the CCC Museum, and go through the archival picture displays that I have, and talk more about the family history.  We also go for a walk through the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Park and Garden, as she scouts sites for interviewing and view footage.  Of course I tell her that the Gardens and Park are one of my favorite places designed by architect Joe Wai, and that I bring the dragon boat team for our annual tour and Tai Chi lesson.

Thursday 10:30am  We visit artist/author Janice Wong and her mother Mary (visiting from Saskatoon).  Janice's contribution to the family is recent and enormous.  After growing up in Prince Albert SK, with vitually no contact to her Rev. Chan family in Victoria where her father grew up. Janice's mother shares that when she grew up in Nanaimo, she met Mrs. Chan Yu Tan, and that her mother was friends with her.  Janice authored the book CHOW: From China to Canada: Memories of Food and Family.  She shares the history of Rev. Chan Yu Tan, and how his grandson Dennis moved to Prince Albert to start up a Chinese restaurant.  Chow was published in 2005, and it recieved incredible local and national media attention across Canada.  Halya is surprised to learn that Janice and I have only known each other for a year.  We attribute our wonderful friendship, that seems like decades, to a shared knowingness of family history.

1pm  We meet my mother's cousin Rhonda Larrabee. I first heard of Rhonda many years ago, when I first started doing a family tree in the late 70's as an interest.  It wasn't until 1999, that Rhonda and I really got to know each other during meetings for the Rev. Chan Family Legacy, as we planned the 1999 and 2000 reunions.  Rhonda is the subject of the NFB film “Tribe of One” which recounts how she single handedly rebuilt the Qayqayt First Nations Band, which is her heritage from her mother.  Rhonda's father is Art, my grandmother's second oldest brother.  Rhonda shares that she feels both her Chinese and First Nations cultures really have a deep respect for elders.

3:30 We meet Tracy, daughter of my mother's cousin Gail.  Tracy was the first CanSpell Champion for BC, last year.  She went to Washington DC for the annual Kripp's Spelling Bee, and also to Ottawa for the first national CanSpell contest.  Halya asks Tracy what she knows about Rev. Chan Yu Tan, the WW2 Veterans and about the family reunions.  She answers all the questions easily and with a poise and awareness you don't expect from a 14 year old.  She says she is proud of her family history.  Even though she has both shared English and Chinese ancestry, she calls herself Chinese-Canadian rather than simply as a Canadian. She and her friends had come to Park Royal shopping centre to purchase pinatas to celebrate Mexican Independence Day at their school.  They are first year members of the Multicultural Club.  She figure skates, she plays flute in concert band.  She is exactly what you could wish all children could grow up to be like.  Accomplished, knowledgeable and still humble and a bit shy.  It makes you proud to be part of her family, and it makes Halya and I hopeful for Canada's future.

3 thoughts on “CBC Generations and the Rev. Chan Yu Tan family

  1. Anonymous

    oh it's really nice to know your ancestry. congrats! i hope i can find mine too. i know many many chinese pioneers have the same last name as mine (ng). and i've heard stories told by my grannies that a lot of young men of our village in toi shan, china were “sold” to work in canada/us during the qing dynasty.
    anywhere i can start looking?

  2. Anonymous

    Off the top of my head…
    3 things to check
    1) Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC – wonderful networks and good resources
    2) Vancouver Public Library website “Chinese Canadian Genealogy” – wonderful resources
    3) Chinese Organizations in Vancouver Chinatown eg. Chinese Benevolent Association, Lee Association, Wong Association

  3. Anonymous

    thanks! i also found that you've listed a number of good sites about chinese canadian history… i'll definitely visit some of them.
    wonderful website you have, todd


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