Victoria celebrates 150 years of Chinese Canadian History with a grand dinner and awards

Chinese Canadian achievements feted at Victoria's Empress Hotel, attended by Hon. Norman Kwong, Sen. Vivienne Poy, Dr. David Lai, Dr. Wallace Chung and many others.

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Hon. Norman Kwong, Lt. Gov. of Alberta, addressing the 150 Years in Golden Mountain dinner audience – photo Todd Wong

It was a night to recognize achievements in Chinese Canadian history, and it was best summed up by the Hon. Lt. Gov. of Alberta Norman Kwong.  He told a story about how challenging it was being the first Chinese in the Canadian Football League, and how the Calgary Stampeders had given up on him. 

“Don't ever give up,” he told the audience.  The he proudly showed his Stanley Cup ring and mentioned his four Grey Cup victories, “And I'm Chinese!” he said.

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Obee and Lucinda Chodan, Editor and Editor in Chief of the Vicotoria
Times Colonist stand with Todd Wong, Victor Wong and Daniel Lee,
holding up copies of the 12 page insert titled Chinatown that
celebrated 150 years of Chinese Canadian Chinatown history – photo Deb

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Archival picture displays of Chinese Canadian history greeted the audience for the “150 Years in Golden Mountain” gala event – photo Todd Wong

The evening had began with a reception in the Palm Court of the Empress Hotel.  There were picture displays, music, food and mingling.  I was finally able to meet Amanada Mills, the chair of the Victoria Chinese Commerce Association, who I had communicated with for months, as well as Sinclair Mar, the chair of the 150 Years in Golden Mountain Celebrations Committee.  And I also finally got to meet Dr. David Lai, Victoria Chinatown historian, whom I have heard so much about over the years.

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Todd Wong & Sen. Vivienne Poy – photo Deb Martin.

Senator Vivienne Poy is the patron senator of Asian Heritage Month
throughout Canada, and I first met her in Ottawa when I worked for
Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society.  It's always nice to see
Vivienne, as her husband's late Aunt Cecilia had been married to my
grandmother's oldest brother Henry.

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NDP leader Carole James & Todd Wong – photo Deb Martin

I chatted with Gabriel Yiu, news commentator, and Carole James, NDP Opposition Leader.  I asked Carole about her family ancestry, and she shared with me that her father was First Nations.  I thought it would be real cool if she became Premier, because then we would have both a Premier and Lt. Gov. of First Nations heritage!  I got to know Gabriel when we were both active on the Chinese Head Tax Redress campaign.  Unfortunately Jenny Kwan couldn't attend, as she is due with her second child in one month.

Many people traveled from Vancouver to attend this event.  I bumped into Tung Chan, executive director of SUCCESS.  We remarked that this was a great event and lamented that nothing of this scope was happening in Vancouver…. yet.

It was wonderful to see Dr. Wallace Chung and Dr. Madeline Chung of Vancouver.  They have given so much to the community in Vancouver, the Chinese Cultural Centre, the Vancouver Maritime Museum and the UBC Asian Library.  They are friends of my parents, and it was Dr. Madeline who delivered me as a baby many many years ago.

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Deb Martin, Valerie Sing Turner & Todd Wong – photo Deb Martin

Actor/Writer Valerie Sing Turner was there with her family, as her father James Sing was an award winner.  I had last seen Valerie's family at the opening of her theatrical production of Malaysia Hotel, when I helped promote it through Asian Heritage Month, and also find her some sponsorship.

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Victoria councilor Charlene Thornton-Joe with Todd Wong – photo Deb Martin

Charlene Thornton-Joe came over to our table during the dinner to say hello.  It was the first time I had met this Victoria city councilor, after reading about her efforts to preserve Victoria's Chinese heritage.

It was nice to speak with MLA Ida Chong, who brought greetings from the
Government of British Columbia, as Premier Campbell was in Beijing for
the Olympics.  Ida Chong is one of the 6 newest invitees (along with
me) to “The Party” exhibit at the Royal BC Museum, which features
life-size photos of almost 150 of BC's most colourful and interesting
characters.  Ida is the first Canadian-born MLA of Chinese ancestry.

150 Years in Golden Mountain Awards

My role at this dinner and awards evening  was to represent the Rev. Chan Yu Tan family along with my grand uncles Victor Wong and Daniel Lee.  We all sat at the same table, accompanied by Uncle Victor's wife Auntie Dorothy and my girlfriend Deb Martin.

Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe was the dinner Emcee, Hudson Mack of A-Channel was Emcee for the awards.

Norman Kwong, the Hon. Lt. Gov. of Alberta was invited to say a few official words of greeting, representing the Queen.  But instead he turned it into his acceptance speech for his award.  I guess there was some confusion, or else Mr. Kwong was very canny, because sadly there were no acceptance speeches allowed for the award recipients, as the program didn't allow for any on a very tight schedule.

But as each winner was escorted to the stage, there was a short video played on a large video screen with a voice-over, as pictures flashed before the audience.  It was a lovely gesture and helped to give meaning to each person's contributions to history and why they were deserving of the award.

Here's what the program said about the winner of the British Columbia Lifetime Cultural or Multicultural Award:

This award goes to recognize Revernd Chan Yu Tan who came to Canada in 1896 and ministered to the Chinese pioneers who worked on the railroad, searched for gold, and became shopkeepers and labourers in Victoria, Vancouver, Nanaimo and eventually New Westminster where he eventually retired.  Reverend Chan taught English to the Chinese and emphasized learning Canadian ways, espeically to his extended family.  His son Jack loved golf and was the first Chinese Canadian to serve on jury duty.  His youngest son Luke became an actor in Hollywood.  The four sons of his daughters Rose and Kate enlisted in the Canadian armed forces in World War II, eventually helping Chinese-Canadians gain the right to vote and later helped organize the Chinese Canadian Veterans Associations.  His four grandchildren who served overseas in World War II were Victor Eric Wong, and brothers Howard Lee, Daniel Lee and Leonard Lee.  A great grand-daughter Rhonda Lee Larabee became First Nations Band Chief and great grandson Todd Wong created the event Gung Haggis Fat Choy, a mixture of Robbie Burns Day and Chinese New Year.

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Picture of Rev. & Mrs. Chan Yu Tan's 60th Wedding Anniversary, surrounded by their family and descendants – photo Deb Martin.

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Chan descendants Todd Wong, Daniel Lee, Victor Wong, stand beside
Celebrations Chair Sinclair Mar and Awards Emcee Hudson Mack from
A-Channel – photo Deb Martin

Rev. Chan descendants Todd Wong, Daniel Lee, Victor Wong, stand beside Celebrations Chair Sinclair Mar and Awards Emcee Hudson Mack from A-Channel – photo Deb Martin

The evening's final award, the Golden Mountain Pioneer Legacy Award, was given in recognition to the Chinese Canadian Veterans.   Both my grand-uncles Victor Wong and Daniel Lee went to accept it.

Here's an excerpt from the program about the veterans:

“…After WWII, they concentrated efforts in a lobby for the franchise and other civil rights.  Sgt. Roy Q. Mah, the founding member and President of the Ethnic Associate Press of BC, Vice-President of Ethnic Press Federation of Canada nad owner-publisher-editor of the Chinatown News, went with a contingent of Chinese Canadian Veterans to Ottawa to lobby influential politicians and Members of Parliament. Their lobby was successful, and Paliament soon passed the bill giving Chinese Canadians both the franchise and citizenship.  On January 1st, 1947, Chinese Canadian full rights as Canadian Citizens, including the right to vote, were finally recognized.”

Photo Library - 2943Daniel Lee and Victor Wong stand onstage, as a picture of Victor Wong in India during WW2 is shown on the giant screen – photo Todd Wong

Uncle Dan and Uncle Victor proudly accepted the award, and the entire audience rose to give them a standing ovation.  They represented one of the most important moments in Chinese-Canadian history.  They both saluted the audience, the the applause grew louder.  I am very proud of my uncles, because I know about all the work and devotion they have to keeping the legacy of the Chinese Canadian veterans alive. 

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Victor Wong and Daniel Lee, cousins and grandsons of Rev. Chan Yu Tan saluted the audience after accepting the Golden Mountain Pioneer Legacy Award on behalf of their fellow Chinese Canadian veterans- photo Todd Wong

Every November, Uncle Dan is out selling poppies in the streets of Vancouver and he is now 88 years old.  He has helped organize the Armistice Ceremonies in Vancouver's Victory Square for many many years.  Uncle Victor was interviewed for the CBC documentary Generations: The Chan Legacy, as he recounted stories about not only his grandfather Rev. Chan Yu Tan, but also about being in the service, and that he had been a part of a covert force behind enemy lines that were to be assigned suicide missions.  This is the legacy of the Chinese Canadian veterans – that even though the Canadian government wouldn't let them vote in the country they were born in, they were willing to lay down their lives to defend it.

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Giles, Amanda Mills (VCCA Chair), Serena, Sinclair Mar (Celebration Chair), Deb Martin, Todd Wong shared thoughts and company after the event at The Empress Hotel's Bengal Lounge. – photo Deb Martin

More pictures at:

Here is a complete list of the awards:

The Golden Mountain Achievement Awards:
“…the recognize persons of distinction in the Chinese community or for being intrumental in the growth and development of Chinese culture and business…”'

Canadian Lifetime Individual Achievement Award
Dr. David See-Chia Lam

Canada Lifetime Public and Community Serivce Award
Ron Lou-Poy, Q.C.

Canada Lifetime Public and Community Service Award
Senator Vivienne Poy

Canada Lifetime Entrepreneurial Achievement Award
Hon. Norman L. Kwong

Canada Lifetime Entrepreneurial Achievement Award
James Alan Loo Sing

British Columbia Lifetime Entrepreneurial Achievement Award
Hok Yat Louie (post-humous), Tong Louie (post-humous), Brandt Louie, H.Y. Louie Co. Ltd, and London Drugs Ltd.

British Columbia Lifetime Public and Community Service Award
Sgt. Roy Quock Quon Mah (post-humous)

British Columbia Lifetime Cultural or Multicultural Award
Rev. Chan Yu Tan (post-humous)

Inaugural Golden Mountain Achievement Awards British Columbia:
“For recognition of persons or businesses, who are persons of Chinese descent or an organization having “Chinese” roots, who have excelled in their field of endeavor benefiting the Chinese Canadian communities or Canadian society.  These awards are to be for nominations in or related to British Columbia

BC Business and Entrepreneurial Achievement Award
H.Y. Louie Co. Ltd.

British Columbia Arts, Culture or Educational Achievement Award
Dr. Hua Lin

British Columbia Community and Public Service Award
Phillip J. Chan (post-humous)

British Columbia Online or Multi-platform Achievement Award
Mainstream Broadcasting Corporation

Inaugural Golden Mountain Roots Awards and All-Canadian Benefactor Awards:
“The 'Roots' awards are for recognition of distinguished work and dedication to preserving our heritage, culture, and or to advancing our economic impact or advancing business enterprises or projects or research, in or related to, or tied to Victoria BC and/or creating better understanding between Canadians of all backgrounds and/or advancing the entrepreneurial spirit emanating from our roots, Victoria, BC.  they are the safekeepers of our heritage and roots in Victoria, the first Chinatown in Canada.

Victoria, British Columbia Individual or Family Victoria Heritage Award
Don Yuen

Victoria, British Columbia Individual or Family Heritage Award
Dr. Yuen-Fong Woon

Victoria, British Columbia Corporate or Organizational Heritage Award
Fairway Market

Victoria “Roots” Community and Public Service Heritage Award
Dr. David Lai

Victoria “Roots” Community and Public Service Heritage Award
Lee Mong Kow Family

British Columbia All-Canadian Benefactor Award
Victoria “Roots” Community and Public Service Heritage Award
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

Victoria “Roots” All-Canadian Benefactor Award
Victoria Chinese Presbyterian Church

Golden Mountain Pioneer Legacy Award
Chinese Canadian Veterans

150 Years in Golden Mountain

Pageant will tell tales of Golden Mountain

Celebration Pageant

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