father, grandfather and great grandfather came to the "Gold Mountain" many
decades ago. From the 19th century there was a world-wide migration from
Southern China as immigrants looked for a better source of income to support
their families. Immigration to Canada was very difficult. There was a strong
racist effort to keep Asians from joining our society. Chinese men were
allowed into the country only if they paid the "head
tax" which was equivalent of a year's wages. They were not allowed
to bring their wives and family. As a result, they worked extremely had
to earn low wages to pay off the head tax and to send money back to China
to support their families.
Sue-On's grandfather saved enough
to buy a hotel, but because of racist policies could not obtain a license
for a beverage room. Sue-On's dad, Soo Choy, opened a restaurant in the
small prairie town of Newdale and earned enough over the years to send
money back to his family and to make periodic journeys back to the homeland.
Following each journey home another child was added to the family back
During Soo's visit back to China
in the early '30s he built a large three-storey house for the family. This
ornate structure was constructed with large timbers and solid cement blocks.
The Choys were land-owners
so the house was surrounded by an orchard, garden, bamboo groves and rice
Sue-On's mom, Jade,
raised five children here. She survived storms, droughts, famine, Jap army
invasions, WWII turmoil and bandits. The security of the home was provided
by a high wall and upper gun turrets. Jade not only cared for the fields,
home and family through these hard times, but also was very generous in
helping neighbours in need. She made sure that the kids were sent to Hong
Kong and neighbouring cities for higher education.
Her youngest child, Sue-On,
was born in 1948. In 1950 the Communist Revolution made her existence here
unbearable. Because the Choys were landowners, the new government took
over their lands and confiscated the home for government offices. Jade
arranged for a neighbour woman to smuggle toddler Sue-On out to Hong Kong
among her children since she had permission to move to move there. Sue-On
would live with her grandparents. Later, Jade tried to follow, but was
captured as she attempted to wade across the river into Hong Kong at low
tide. She was imprisoned for some time and the family lost all contact
with her. Eventually, funds were sent to obtain permission for her to move
to Hong Kong. It would be many more years before Canadian immigration policies
changed -- starting with the abolishment of the Chinese Immigration/Exclusion
Act -- and Jade and little Sue-On would be allowed to join Soo in Canada
Meanwhile, because the Choys were
landowners, the house, sans land holdings, was eventually returned to family.
Relatives moved in and these families still live there today. The house
was very well built and has survived the years and conflicts quite well.
Sue-On's brother, Kenny Choy, had
returned to the house two times with wife Rebecca and their three daughters
and spouses. When he learned that Sue-On
and I were planning to visit the home, he and Rebecca agreed to
join us. Their knowledge of the village and relatives provided us with
invaluable assistance. They are experienced world travellers and are a
joy to travel with. Our daughter, Dr. China-Li Hillman and Ryan McIntosh
also joined us on our visit. Our friend, Ken Tsai -- a retired RCMP officer
-- had spent his early years in the adjoining village so he and his son
and daughter, Shaan and Sija, also made the trip with us.
We took hundreds of photos of the
village, the original Choy and Tsai houses, and the current Choy family
home. Our photos show that the home, once surrounded by vegetation and
fields, has now been swallowed up by village business and apartment buildings.
It was a fascinating and emotional visit that provided a great chance for
us to reflect on years gone by.