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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Growing Up with Racism Over the Generations

Oct 22 1942 Halifax Herald Mail

by Robert Lee

After many distractions and several trips back to China, Dad eventually graduated from Dalhousie University and Nova Scotia Technical College with a degree in Civil Engineering. He had hopes of eventually going back to China to rejoin his family and to contribute to the reconstruction efforts in China as the war drew to a close. Unfortunately, it was not to be as the free migration between Canada and China got even more restrictive when Mao’s Revolutionary Army overran the country and pushed out the old regime to Taiwan (it was called Formosa then). Eventually, Canada and the US arrived at a twisted conclusion it was better to let Chinese families reunite over here than to have them all turn into Commies. So in late 1949, after a lot of paperwork and planning, Dad finally made his way westward across Canada from Halifax to Vancouver on the Canadian National Railway (ironically built in good part with Chinese labor and money). Meanwhile, Mom and our sister Nancy were heading from our little village in China over to Hong Kong and then across the Pacific by way of Tokyo to Vancouver on a series of old 4-prop Viscount planes. Mom was incredibly sick at the time (probably malnourished and anemic) and arrived in Tokyo in need of a blood transfusion. So they lost a day or two while Mom was recovering in Japan of all places.

After well over a week of sitting on the train from Halifax to Vancouver, Dad finally arrived in Vancouver with no sign of Mom and Nancy so he ends up waiting while telegraphs go back-and-forth across the Pacific to see where they were. A few days later – to Dad’s relief – they finally landed in Vancouver with Mom in need of another transfusion, once again courtesy of the Red Cross. Just try to imagine the incredible logistics of coordinating all of this back in 1950 with no long distance phones, no Internet or e-mail and Western Union was your only means of “quickly” communicating over long distances (or sending money)!

Dad never forgot the generosity of the Red Cross and over the years – each and every Fall during their annual fundraising campaign – he would religiously canvas the local Chinese community for donations to the Red Cross right up until the year he passed away (1990).

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My Brother Writes About Chinese History in the Maritimes

by Robert Lee

My brother, Albert, still lives back in Halifax where we were born and grew up as kids. In recent years, his lifelong career as an award-winning photojournalist and photographer has led him to organizing several exhibits of photo collections comprised of his personal work as well as photographs that have made their way to him from many sources. Many of these pictures have been enlightening, often providing never-before-seen glimpses into the lives of our Chinese predecessors who lived in the Maritime provinces for over a century. As his collection and studies grew, Albert began researching and documenting more of our collective history and stories which brought him into a growing interest in the history of the Chinese across Canada over the years. As a result of his work, Albert has connected with other groups on the West Coast at UBC and in Winnipeg at the soon-to-be-opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights Museum. Here’s a recent piece he wrote for CCNC and has now also been posted to several other sites across Canada. (You can enlarge each picture by clicking on the thumbnails.)

Early Chinese History in the Maritimes

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

Dad sure didn’t look happy in this class picture.

The earliest recorded arrival and settlement of the Chinese in the Maritimes was in the late 1890s — 30 years after their arrival in British Columbia. In one Maritime city after another, small groups of Chinese male workers arrived in search of employment and opportunities, finding work as cooks, kitchen hands and domestic help. Many set up small hand laundries to serve the needs of local communities.

As early as the 1890s, Chinese hand laundries began to appear in Maritime cities, such as Halifax, Saint John, and St. John’s (then-Colony of Newfoundland). From the 1890s to the 1920s, the vast majority of Chinese immigrants who settled in Atlantic Canada moved from Central Canada and the west coast. However, some of the earliest arrivals came from much farther away. One adventurous young man was Fong Choy. He was said to have been the founder of several Chinese laundries in Halifax and St. John’s in the early and mid-1890s.

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