A Close Encounter from 50 Years Ago

Last Friday, August 8th was the fiftieth anniversary of one of the first mass shootings that I can recall from Canada or the States. Long before Columbine or any of the other shootings that followed, Edward Thomas Boutilier was a mentally-disturbed 18-year old who rode his bike around the South end of Halifax on that summer afternoon in 1964 and shot three young boys, killing two of them. After giving himself up days later, Boutilier was later diagnosed as mentally ill and institutionalized instead of being tried in a court of law. He subsequently killed himself 10 years later. There’s a link in the first paragraph to the article that spurred me to write this post for New Canadian Media.

This story is still as fresh in my mind today as it was when it happened. Or I should say two days after it happened, as you’ll soon understand after you read my post.

Remembering a Halifax Shooting Spree and a Narrow Escape

Written for  New Canadian Media Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Halifax Harbour, 1917 Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

by Robert Lee

Last week I came across an article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald memorializing a tragic day fifty years ago when three young boys were randomly gunned down by a man who was found to be mentally disturbed. My own memories of that time came flooding back, along with the realization that I had narrowly missed being a victim myself.

I was 13 that summer in 1964, the son of the first Chinese boy to live in Halifax. My dad had been there since 1916 and had grown up to be an important fixture in the community, eager to help anyone and everyone.

My younger brothers and I were accompanying our mother (who didn’t speak any English) on a cruise ship that would take us from Halifax to New York City in two days to visit our sister. Among other things, Dad would often book travel arrangements for many in the Halifax Chinese community because he spoke perfect English so he knew how to convey the details to the travel agent (who all too happily paid him a small fee for each ticket he sold).

Among other things, Dad would often book travel arrangements for many in the Halifax Chinese community …

As the oldest son in the family, I was in charge of our group, talking to the baggage handlers, the waiters and other staff on board. Dad dropped us off mid-afternoon hours before departure so he could head off and run a few errands before heading home to a quiet house. We were shown to our cabin and settled in when it suddenly hit me that I had forgotten my stash of vacation comic books back at home! With so much time left to wait for departure, I ran down the gangplank and off the ship, heading up South Street just a couple of blocks back to our house. Dad wasn’t home yet so I let myself back in and retrieved my comics and left him a note. Comics in hand, I dashed back to the ship and into our cabin with hours to spare!

The ship finally set sail into the Atlantic on to New York City. And not being accustomed to any kind of motion, Mom immediately got seasick and spent her entire time in our cabin throwing up. So my brothers and I would have the run of the ship. What a blast! It was one opportunity to enjoy some rare moments of freedom and independence. We’d eat our meals in the dining room enjoying being waited on by the staff and we’d take a little food back to Mom in the cabin, even though she couldn’t really eat much the whole time we were on the ship. We’d spend our days exploring the entire ship level by level and stopping here and there to look around with no adult supervision!

Two days later, we pulled into New York Harbor, passing the Statue of Liberty to pull into our dock. After disembarking, we cleared immigration and customs with our paperwork and were greeted by our sister and her family. We drove over to their house in Brooklyn and settled in to get our sea legs back.

Dutifully, I went over to the phone to call Dad as we had always been taught to do when I arrived anywhere – I placed a collect call for him to our number at home. He would typically decline the collect call, “I’m sorry. He’s not here right now. Could I take a message?” was always his response and the operator would do her job with no charge on either end. It was another one of his ways of being frugal and not wasting money, carried over from his days of living through the Great Depression. (How many of you remember this trick too? I always wondered how many operators would shake their heads each time a collect call came in.)

Close Call

But I couldn’t believe what happened next! This time, he actually said, “Yes, this is him. I will accept the call!” I fell back into my chair! “I need to talk to you about something,” he said.

He proceeded to tell me about the shooting spree that had just taken place in the South End of town, close to where we lived. Apparently someone had shot three children while riding his bike. It had happened around the time I had dashed home and back to the ship to grab my comic books!

“You could have been killed!” said my father.

That fact didn’t hit home until I read that Herald piece and saw the map showing the killer’s route through the South End. I could see that he had ridden along close to the railway line near the harbour. I would have been crossing through the same area right around the same time on my way back to our house.

I spent a lot of that summer vacation thinking about that horrific event and the death of the two young boys (the third survived). But, in our house, we never talked about it again.

The Chinese in Vancouver

Hong Kong’s Pearl TV does a recent episode on the influx of Chinese to the city of Vancouver over the past decade.

Memories of Citadel Hill

One of the pages that I follow on Facebook is Vintage Halifax where they post a wide range of old pictures and postcards depicting Halifax from as far back as when photography was first invented. Their collection continues to grow and I’ve commented on a few when they bring back personal memories from over the years. Yesterday, they posted this old postcard from the 1920’s that was taken up on Citadel Hill where the original Halifax fortress was built for the British troops to watch and protect the expansive harbor that was – and still is – not only an important part of Halifax but the entire East Coast shipping routes.

This view definitely brought back an interesting memory of our Dad and I’m sharing it here as well.

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The Chinese in Cuba

Documentary maker Pok Chi Lau talks about his life in Canada and what he learned about how the Chinese arrived in Cuba. (Clicking on Watch on Vimeo will open the movie in a Vimeo tab.)

Cuban CHINESE from AMCNN on Vimeo.

A Century of Chinese Revolution

Just in time for your New Year’s viewing. Time to make some popcorn and sit down as the holidays wind down and watch some videos!

MaosRevolutiongifI recently came across this 3-part series China: A Century of Revolution 1911 – 2011 and decided this collection was worth posting and sharing with friends and family.

For our family, it has special meaning: Dad was born in 1906 and arrived in Canada at the age of 9 in 1916 to join his father in Halifax. So for most of his life from afar, Dad watched China evolve and undergo one revolution after another until Mao’s Communist revolution was complete at the end of World War II in late 40’s. In 1949, Mom and our sister, Nancy, made it out of China just as all of that was taking place after Chinese families were finally allowed to re-unite after nearly a century of extreme racial discrimination in North America. Watching Episode 1: 1911 – 1949 gave me a whole new perspective and historical context of what was going on during that period when Dad was living in Canada while Mom and Nancy were still back in China.

It staggers my mind when I try to imagine their lives in the last century: The village where Mom and Nancy lived hasn’t changed much in the years since they left; when I visited back in 2001, it was still a tiny village of around 200 people living off the land and farming in the rice fields. It was almost an hour’s drive down a dirt road from the nearest town (which would often flood during rainy season) where the children would go to school. Even in 2001, there was only minimal electricity and no running water or sewers so the water supply came from the same river where all the sewage runoff flowed and where they grew their rice. No telephones and certainly no mail service. Now go back to the turn of the last century and picture that AND no mail service to speak of, no telephones or telegraph. How Dad managed to stay in touch and send money home to support his family is unimaginable, let alone making all the arrangements to have them leave their village in 1949, take a train down to Hong Kong and then fly on an airplane to Canada – all for the first time in their lives. Mom had been anemic so they had an unexpected delay in Tokyo before getting on board a Canadian Pacific Airlines 4-prop Viscount plane to fly over to Vancouver BC where Dad planned to be waiting for them. Dad freaked out after arriving in Vancouver from his long train trip across Canada all the way from the East Coast only to realize that they weren’t on the plane he had booked for them! A frantic telegraph or two later, he was finally informed of Mom’s illness and the delay in their departure from Tokyo. When Mom and Nancy finally arrived in Vancouver, they joined Dad on another nearly 2-week train ride back East across Canada to arrive at their new home in Halifax NS after each spending almost a month of travel halfway around the world (and having come from a previous lifetime as nothing more than the experience of their simple village lives). When Nancy met her Father for the first time after stepping off that plane in Vancouver, she was already 15½ years old!

Each video is nearly 2 hours long so settle in for a Chinese History marathon. Happy New Year to everyone!

Reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover at 11

I still remember reading D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I was around the ripe old age of 11. And just how did a geeky little Chinese kid living in a very strict and controlled home end up reading such a lurid tome at such a tender age you ask?

Over his entire life for as long as we can remember, our Dad always had a strong lifelong commitment to helping most of the small Chinese community that lived in Halifax. Having the advantage of a college education and being able to speak, read and write perfect English, Dad would often be called upon to provide much-needed assistance to anyone who asked. If someone needed a translator in court, Dad was there. And every Fall, Dad would religiously canvas the entire Chinese community gathering donations for the United Way as his personal contribution for the help they provided our Mom with blood transfusions when she first arrived in Canada on the West Coast. Not that the Chinese population was very large back in the 50’s and 60’s as we were growing up. And so it was that one summer day when I was allowed to sit out on our front steps, I said ‘Hello’ to a young Chinese man who was walking past our house. It turned out that he was newly arrived with no relatives in the area. At the time, he was supporting himself as a waiter at a restaurant and saving his money to start a business. Dad took a liking to him and Jimmy would visit us from time to time.

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More Racism in the Modern Age

One more blatant example of racism towards Asians in General and Chinese in particular, coming out of politically-correct liberal San Francisco of all places. According to the latest census data, Asians make up a third of the population in San Francisco with 64% of Chinese descent. Vancouver BC has similar numbers.

And yet with numbers like this, the excuse from the San Francisco Police Dept. was “the computer ate my homework.” Unbelievable!

Guess we still all look alike… Seems to me that Asians generally tend to be much more passive than other races (or am I also stereotyping here?).

Police list arrested Asians as ‘Chinese’

SF department blames outdated computers for inaccurate records

By Shoshana Walter on September 26, 2012

The San Francisco Police Department, relying on antiquated computer technology, routinely recorded nearly all Asians who were arrested in the city as “Chinese” until this month, department officials said.

Arrest data that included the “Chinese” numbers was released to the public and sent to law enforcement agencies for at least 10 years, contributing to a skewed understanding of who was being arrested by San Francisco police.

Read the rest of the article – click HERE.

The Legend Behind Chinese Laundries?

Robert Lee

Over the years, a lot of people have wondered how it was that the earliest Chinese workers ended up in the laundry business. Restaurants we can understand. Everyone’s got to eat. But laundries?

We found this old clip on John Jung’s Chinese Laundry Blog from California, (click to enlarge in a new window for easier reading):

Why Chinese Laundries?

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Albert’s Reflections on the Head Tax

by Albert Lee
Gorsebrook Research Institute for Atlantic Canada Studies, Saint Mary’s University
As originally published on CCNC Our Stories Project

Albert Lee – family montage

My parents were old enough to be my grandparents because of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

That point was made to me by May Lui, former president of the Chinese Society of Nova Scotia and former National Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, back in 2006 when Jason Kenney, then Parliamentary Secretary for the Prime Minister, was visiting Halifax on a fact-finding mission on Head Tax redress. I was asked by May Lui to talk on CBC national television as a representative of the Loh Wah Kiu in Halifax. Up until that time, I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that my parents were older than the parents of other children I grew up with, but that remark brought the whole history home to me.

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Chinese Liberty Bonds

by Robert Lee

Our Dad was unwaveringly patriotic to Canada but he never lost his quiet but undying sense of loyalty to his homeland in China. And it was because of being Chinese that he bought some Republic of China Liberty Bonds in between World Wars as his small contribution to help with the re-building efforts. In fact, he kept these bonds in his files and never considered redeeming any of the coupons when the interest came due so his small contribution would remain in China. I was looking at this $10.00 certificate recently, printed in Chinese on the front with a decent English version on the back (click on the smaller images to enlarge in a new window for easier viewing).

NOTE: The 26th Year of the Republic of China referenced on the bond was 1937 and the 59th Year of the Republic when the final interest coupon came due was 1970! So these bonds were supposed to be paid out over 33 years until maturity! And which were apparently never actually re-paid from what I only recently discovered (see the article at the end of this post).

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