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“FOREBODINGS: NOTES ON CLIMATE CATASTROPHE,” IN LITERARY REVIEW OF CANADA

In Literary Review of Canada, April 2020, Susan Crean writes about her experiences travelling to the Arctic, how climate change is poised to radically transform it, and why the region is ground zero for the coming global climate catastrophe.

"Scientists, naturalists, and Indigenous elders have been pointing to the evidence for decades, their messages about irreversible damage largely ignored by governments and the mainstream."

Read Susan Crean's article Forebodings: Notes on Climate Catastrophe online. You can also download it as a PDF.

At the Wongs’ Association Annual Christmas Banquet

Shan Qiao and I have been attending the annual banquet of the Wongs' Association of Ontario (Wong Kung Har Wun Sun) for many years now. It takes place in the Summer. We also frequently participate in the Christmas gathering in December. This year it was held at the Dim Sum King on Dundas Street West in downtown Toronto on December 28th. We were the guests of Chuck K. Wong, and were delighted to attend with Chuck C.C. Wong and his wife Margaret, as well as Chuck K Wong, his wife Libby Wong, and son Brian.

“THE DINNER PARTY: INDIGESTION FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT,” IN INSIDE BROADSIDE

In Inside Broadside: A Decade of Feminist Journalism. Ed, Philinda Masters, Second Story Press Oct. 8 2019.

"The point is not to criticize Chicago for her choice of guests; nor for attempting to take in all of western civilization in her sweep of history.... The point is, however, that Chicago's politics are not particularly radical. Her visualization of feminism, rhetoric aside, fits right in with the trendy notions of 'liberated' upper class matrons."

Broadside: A Feminist Review was a groundbreaking Canadian feminist newspaper published between 1979 and 1989. While Broadside paid attention to everything from feminists making art to street activism, it also covered the mainstream, from pop culture to peacemaking. The Broadside team uncovered the work of female artists and developed challenging and risky new ideas, all while participating in the day-to-day organizing of a grassroots movement.

Broadside helped reinvent journalism to make room for a feminist voice. This collection looks at the impact of the newspaper on the lives of women. Through a selection of key articles, the book explores the issues and events, the conflicts and controversies, and the debates and discoveries of feminist theory and activism that formed the context and content of a decade of change.

Buy the book here.

AT THE WONGS’ ASSOCIATION BANQUET

Author Susan Crean was at the annual Wongs' Association Banquet speaking about her book Finding Mr. Wong.  Below you can watch a 'teaser' video (created by Shan Qiao) for the book that was presented at the banquet.

FINDING MR. WONG SLIDESHOW FROM THE WONGS' ASSOCIATION BANQUET

Read more about the Wongs Association in this post: Visiting The Wongs' Association.

ASIAN CANADIAN HERITAGE MONTH EVENT: Q & A WITH SUSAN CREAN

Lien Chao (left) and Susan have a Q & A session at Author’s Book Fair in Splendid China Shopping Mall at Asian Heritage Month (Photo: Shan Qiao).

Author Susan Crean was at the Asian Heritage Month Book Fair event at the Splendid China Shopping Mall in Scarborough for a Q & A session on her book Finding Mr. Wong. Writer Lien Chao hosted the Q & A.

A summary of this event can be found at New Canadian Media in this article, written by photojournalist Shan Qiao: Historic Head Tax Unites Canadians at Book Fair.

THE TIES BETWEEN A HOUSE BOY AND HIS EMPLOYER

Chinese head tax stories: Wong Dong Wong

A tale of A Simple Life in Canada
A white female writer’s search in Taishan
A tribute to her servant’s unfinished dream

This piece by Lu Wong, who reports from Vancouver for Sing Tao, appeared in Sing Tao Daily on September 18th, 2010. You can also download it as a PDF (3.2 Mb). This translation is by Shan (Joanna) Qiao and is part of a series of Chinese head tax stories.

A tale of a man much like the one depicted in Hong Kong’s award-winning movie A Simple Life is happening here in Canada. Former Chair of The Writer’s Union of Canada Susan Crean started her trip to Taishan, China last year in search of the untold story of Wong Chong Wong, her family servant for 37 years.

Susan went to Yong Ning Village, Taishan, Guangdong province last September, hoping to meet with Wong’s descendants, find his family genealogy and learn his past as an orphan.

The relationship of Susan and Wong was as close as a family. She took care of Wong before he passed away a true reflection of the award-winning Hong Kong movie A Simple Life.

Susan says she will continue to search and collect Wong’s information and start to write stories of people like him and other family servants in Canada. She wants to unfold the hardship of Chinese labourers who came to Canada more than a century ago.

Serving the Crean family for four generations

67-year-old Susan is an acclaimed Canadian writer. She remembers that Wong was 50 years old when she was born. In her memory, Wong was no different than her family members.

Originally from Canton province, China, Wong paid the Chinese head tax and came to Canada in 1911. With the help from his uncle Ru Wen Wong, he started working in Vancouver. He came to Toronto in 1917 and was hired by Susan’s grandfather in 1928. Wong started his lifelong work as a servant in Susan’s family then. He passed away in 1970 at the age of 75.

Last September when Sing Tao first told the story of Susan and Wong, many of our readers contacted Susan and provided her with useful information related to Wong and his family.

With the help from several Chinese Canadian history researchers and Vancouver friend Hou Ji Chen (Howe Chan), Susan started her trip to Wong’s birth place, a village called Yong Nian in Taishan. The only official documents identified Wong that Susan has were a piece of immigration paper issued by Canada government and the registration paper Chinese government issued to overseas Chinese in 1940.

Chinese head tax stories: Looking for the descendants in Canton Province

With the village head Jinhua Huang’s help, Susan learned that Wong’s father were died before he was born. His mother passed away two years after. Being an orphan, Wong was under the care of his uncle Ru Yun Wong and eventually followed his uncle’s footstep to Vancouver in 1911.

Wong went to Toronto in 1917. He met Susan’s grandfather and worked as cook and servant since then.

During her stay in Canton, Susan also visited the grandson of Wong’s uncle, Wen Xi Wong. With the help from Wong’s descendants and Hou Ji Chen, she found the genealogy book of Yong Nian village and Wong’s family.

On the genealogy book, it showed the name of Wong’s father as Ru Zhen Wong. Followed that line was the name of Wong, yet replaced by the character “和(he)”.

Looking at the old house Wong used to live, Susan was glad that she was able to pay the last tribute to Wong. With more stories of Chinese domestic workers to be heard, she will continue her research on this particular history of Chinese Canadian.

Sidebar I: Wealthy white family hired houseboy

According to writer Susan’s research, there were many Chinese flocked to Vancouver to build Canadian Pacific Railway between 1881 and 1885. They also created a new local industry, domestic servants. Discriminated by white people, they were generally called “Chinamen” or “houseboy”.

Most of the house servants came to Canada or America in their teenage ages. Not understanding any English, they were introduced to work at white families as cook helper, then they learned laundry, ironing, gardening and babysitting gradually at work. They managed to save some money from the meager earnings and sent back to their families in China.

Normally only wealthy families were able to hire houseboys in Canada. Hence this is one way to show the status of the family at that time. If the houseboy works well, he would be promoted from seasonal helper to a family servant that worked like a butler who takes responsibility to run the family.

Some family servants carefully saved their earnings and opened a restaurant or laundry store after they retired.

Sidebar II

Directed by Ann Hui, A Simple Life is an award-winning Hong Kong movie starring Andy Lau and Deanie Ip. Ah Tao is a family servant and nanny who started working for the Leung family when she was 13 years old. Six decades passed, she has served five generations. As time goes by, some family members passed away and some immigrated. She lives with Roger, the son and the only family members of the Leung.

Although two of them rarely talk, they enjoy the company of each other. One day Ah Tao unexpectedly suffers a stroke, Roger has to send her to senior house for more care. The strong relationship between the employer and his servant is slowly unveiled.

The movie was nominated for the Best Movie at the 68th Venice Film Festival in 2011. Deanie Ip won Best Actress at the Festival and has become the first Hong Kong actress who won the award.

Sidebar III: Remembered as a grandfather

Although discrimination against Chinese people was normal at the time when Susan grew up, she looked at Wong as one of her family members and asked him to be in her family photos. Whenever Susan misses Wong, she would take out the family photo to reminisce him.

“I literally grew up in Wong’s kitchen. He was like my grandfather and I enjoyed his company very much,” says Susan.

She remembers Wong was always around when she was little and let her ride on his shoulders. She even respected Wong as her grandfather and was never shy to show her fondness and curiosity to Wong.

Susan says that Wong cooked excellent food for the family and were good at making both western food and Chinese food. His bicycle repair skills were quite well known in the neighbourhood. It was impressive to her that Wong was the type that never hesitates to offer help whenever needed.

Wong retired in 1964 and moved out to Chinatown. Susan and her sister Jennie visited him frequently.

“It was such a regret that the last time I talked to him was actually through a phone call. I regret that I was not able to see him when he died. I’ll always remember him like my grandfather,” says Susan.

IN SEARCH OF A HEAD TAX PAYER’S PAST

The Chinese Head Tax in Canada Certificate of Registration

This article by a staff writer was originally published in Sing Tao September 18, 2010, and later reprinted in Kang He magazine. You can also download the article as a PDF (6.1Mb). It’s included as part of a series of stories about the search for the family of Wong Dong Wong, who paid the Chinese head tax to come to Canada. The translation below is by Shan (Joanna) Qiao.

Canadian writer of Irish descent Susan Crean is searching for the past of a long deceased family servant, the Chinese Head Tax payer Wong Dong Wong, a kind and influential member of her family who is still remembered [forty years later].

Born and raised in a middle class family in Toronto’s Forest Hill, Susan studied and travelled in Europe and U.S. in her twenties. She has published several books and served as Chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada in the 1990s.

Wong, on the other hand, was a Chinese labourer who struggled to make a life under Canada’s Exclusion Act. Study and travel was beyond his imagination. Because of legal restrictions and financial limitations, his start in life was a one-way ticket to Canada.

Growing up with Wong in her grandmother’s old kitchen, young Susan would not have known about his past, or how terribly the Head Tax affected his life. In her child’s eyes, Wong was part of the family, and worth fighting for when other white kids called him “Chink”.

Born in 1895, Wong came from a large village called Yong Nian of Tai Shan Province in Southeast China. He followed in the steps of a great many local Taishanese who bought boat tickets, paid the $500 Head Tax, and left for a better life.

Mr. Wong landed in Victoria on November 16th, 1911. He was sixteen and started his life in Gold Mountain unaware he would never get a chance to return home or have a family of his own in his adopted land. In 1928, he moved to Toronto and was hired by Crean’s grandparents as a domestic cook.

As a trusted family servant, Wong was at the deathbed of Crean’s grandfather, and played in the park with Susan and her siblings. He stayed on duty, fulfilling his responsibilities for almost four decades, looking after three generations of the family.

Wong is there in Crean’s childhood memories, a consoling and positive presence. He kept her Grandmother’s house and cooked the meals to perfection, and kept a proper distance with his employer and white society. He was generous at Christmas, and a whiz at fixing bicycles which meant he was popular with the children in the neighbourhood. He was also reserved. He had his dos and don’ts at the house. For example he’d never discussed his private life unnecessarily, or cooked Chinese food, or brought any of his countrymen to the house — not even a lady or companion.

So far as Crean knows, Wong was single and childless. Even though he occasionally mentioned to her father that he had someone back in the village, she never saw any photos or letters from family.

She still remembers some of the stories Wong told them they were young. “He told us about being an orphan, and how once he’d lost his way in the fog while tending his uncle’s cow. He’d been terribly afraid, but the cow knew her way, and guided him back home through the night.

“Wong wasn’t by himself in Chinatown. However, he never brought friends or acquaintances to us. Sometimes, I did hope that he had a regular family life like anybody else does,” she says.

Working as a domestic servant in the fifties and sixties, Wong had a stable and decent job and it would have been possible to save some money at the end of the year. Gambling in underground casinos in Chinatown was a popular way for old Chinese bachelors to kill time. Susan learned later that Wong either sent the money back to the village, or spent it on the gambling table, for he died with very little.

“He was a very generous man. I knew he was sending extra money to China for the education of the next generation,” Crean adds.

At the age of 70, Wong retired from his work and moved to a rooming house with other Chinese bachelor seniors. “I was studying in Europe, and not able to see him a great deal after he retired. However, my sister Jennie made efforts to visit him regularly. After seeing the cockroaches and mice in the first rooming house, she helped him move to 177 Dundas St. West. That was where Wong lived for the rest of his life,” she adds.

Crean visited him every Wednesday with Jennie during her stays in Toronto. They’d hang out at some legendary Chinese restaurant — like Sam Woo ((Sai Woo was located at the time at 130 Dundas St. West. it closed in 2000.)) down the street — enjoying the food Wong wasn’t able to make at her grandparents’ house.

Wong became sick in 1969. Unable to care for himself, he spent his last three months in the hospital and he passed away there on the August long weekend, 1970 at the age of 75. He didn’t leave any written will. Jennie was the one whom the hospital called. He’d left a few hundred dollars, as if he’d figured out how much would cover his funeral expenses and a gravestone. The money was hidden in a tensor bandage that he used to wrap his ankles and legs with as he was a long-time sufferer of varicose veins. The bandage had already been cleared from the room when Jennie arrived, but she managed to find it in the laundry.

Wong was looked after by Jennie and Mr Jim Wong, a younger generation Taishanese who lived next door. Yet no family was there at the end. He was buried not far from his old employers at Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The little square gravestone is hardly big enough to tell the story a Head Tax payer and the solitude he endured his entire life.

As both a beloved member of the family and a Chinese Canadian pioneer, Wong is a character whom Susan wants to include in her current book on Toronto. She talks about the hidden history of those pioneers from distant continents, people of different colours and cultures and how diversity has contributed to the creation of the city we now call Toronto.

In order to find out something about Wong’s kin and the place he came from, Crean will be travelling to Taishan, China at the end of September. She will reverse the route that Wong took when made his journey almost a century ago.

Should readers have any information on Wong or his family, please contact Susan Crean.

Sidebar: How Much Was the Chinese Head Tax?

Wong Dong Wong would not have be able to imagine the Canadian government officially apologizing for its past mistake in legislating the Chinese Head Tax. It is equally hard for us to imagine the extreme conditions the Chinese Head Tax payers faced in Canada:

  • The amount of Head Tax increased from $50 in 1885 to $100 in 1900. It was increased again to $500 in 1903, equivalent to two years wages of a Chinese labour at the time.
  • Meanwhile, Chinese were denied Canadian citizenship. In all, the Federal Government collected $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax, equivalent to more than $1.5 billion nowadays.
  • In 1923, the Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act excluding all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. Between 1923 and 1947 when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, less than 50 Chinese were allowed to settle in Canada.
  • In addition to the Head Tax and Exclusion Act, Chinese immigrants, especially the men, faced other forms of discrimination in their social, economic and political lives. They are not allowed to bring their family, including their wives, to Canada. As a result, the Chinese Canadian community became a “bachelor society”. Exclusion Act resulted in long period of separation of families. Many Chinese families did not reunited until years after the initial marriage, and in some cases they were never reunited.
  • The Chinese labourers struggled to make a living in Canada. Unskilled worker’s daily wage was from 5 cents to 10 cents, while skilled workers made about 20 cents a day. Their monthly salary was between $20 and $30. The family workers made between $10 and $30.
  • Stephen Harper’s minority government officially apologized for the Chinese Head Tax on June 22nd, 2006, promising to compensate all living Head Tax payers or their widows $20,000.
  • According to the statistics made by Chinese Canadian National Council, there were over 2,000 living Head Tax payer across Canada in 1984, however, in 2006, over 90 per cent of them passed away. Only 35 Head Tax payers and 391 widows were able to receive the compensation.

(Information from the website of the Chinese Canadian National Council)

“FINDING MR. WONG: A TALE FROM CANADA’S EXCLUSION ERA” IN NEW CANADIAN MEDIA

Chinese Canadian History: Mr Wong

In New Canadian Media, June 1, 2019

The story of Chinese immigration to Canada is best known for two things. First, the arrival of Chinese labourers in large numbers in the late 1800s to build the crucial last link of the Canadian Pacific Railway—the most difficult and dangerous section which required crossing the Rocky Mountains. And second, for the institution of a head tax meant to dissuade those very men from remaining in the country once the work was completed…

Read the full article Finding Mr. Wong: A Tale From Canada’s Exclusion Era here.

“LE TORONTO IMAGINAIRE” IN TORONTO NO MEAN CITY

In Toronto No Mean City, University of Toronto Press, Jun. 21, 2017

Eric Arthur fell in love with Toronto the first time he saw it. The year was 1923; he was twenty-five years old, newly arrived to teach architecture at the University of Toronto. For the next sixty years he dedicated himself to saving the great buildings of Toronto's past. Toronto, No Mean City sounded a clarion call in his crusade. First published in 1964, it sparked the preservation movement of the 1960s and 1970s and became its bible. This reprint of the third edition, prepared by Stephen Otto, updates Arthur's classic to include information and illustrations uncovered since the appearance of the first edition.

Four new essays were commissioned for this reprint. Christopher Hume, architecture critic and urban affairs columnist for the Toronto Star, addresses the changes to the city since the appearance of the third edition in 1986. Architect and heritage preservation activist Catherine Nasmith assesses the current status of the city's heritage preservation movement. Susan Crean, a freelance writer in Toronto, explores Toronto's vibrant arts scene. Mark Kingwell, professor and cultural commentator, reflects on the development of professional and amateur sports in and around town.

Readers will delight in these anecdotal accounts of the city's rich architectural heritage.