Bill and Sue-On Hillman
An Epic Journey Across Three Centuries
Continued from Epic Pt. 1


 Chinese provided their labour under contract in many of Canada's early industries, including mining, lumber cutting and fishing and canning factories. They also did domestic work in the cities.  Some opened their own small businesses. Entrepreneurship was attractive to many Chinese who saw it as a way to avoid discrimination and to have more control over their lives. Trading companies, laundries, restaurants, cafes and gardening were popular choices for Chinese entrepreneurs. Employment in the professions, because of continued discrimination, was nearly impossible for Chinese Canadians until after World War II.

Despite the discrimination they constantly faced, hundreds of Chinese Canadians volunteered for service during the First World War of 1914-1918. Some would fight and die on the Western Front in France and Belgium. Also, a British scheme moved 85,000-100,000 Chinese labourers to war-torn France. These members of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC)  came through Canada on secret trains during 1917 and 1918. News about the men was censored. No one in Canada was to know about them. This wartime story has been mostly overlooked by Canadian historians. Newspapers were forbidden to report on the scheme, but word did leak out occasionally.
(Read more about these 100,000 forgotten Chinese soldiers of WWI in our Military Tribute Webzine:

AS YOU WERE . . . Part 1: July 2021 and Part 2: August, 2021)

After being shipped to northern France, these Chinese troops were put to work behind the lines to keep the war machine in motion — digging trenches, stacking ammunition, hauling supplies, repairing military vehicles, and the grisly job of cleaning up the bloody battlefields. The work continued well after the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918. Thousands died on the Western Front and some died in Canada on the journey to and from the war. Most were buried in unmarked graves. When it was finally time for the men to go home to China in 1919 and 1920, most returned via Canada.

A giant canvas created and exhibited in Paris during the war, depicting France surrounded by its allies initially included China — but the Chinese section was painted over to include the United States after Americans joined the war in 1917 -- three years into the conflict.

Canadian-born Chinese men and women, who volunteered for duty when Canada entered World War II, were denied active service after politicians lobbied to not allow them to participate in the war. They feared it would allow Chinese to demand full citizenship rights -- including winning back the right to vote. Late in the war when man power was short, Chinese Canadians were mobilized, with as many as 800 young men and women serving in all branches of the military and in all theatres of war.

A group of Chinese Canadian military recruits in 1942 during WWII.
Although many Canadian born Chinese Canadians attempted to enlist during the war
the vast majority were turned down.
By the end of the war around 800 fought for Canada around the world.
More Photos HERE

Even after the exclusion act was repealed in 1947, many first-generation, Canadian-born Chinese were not accorded citizenship as a birthright.

On June 22, 2006 Prime Minster Stephen Harper gave a full apology for the Chinese head tax and for the ban on Chinese immigration from 1923–1947, calling them “malicious measures aimed solely at the Chinese.”

Few head tax payers had survived to see justice done. History and simple arithmetic confirmed their ages at the time of the official apology at over 80 years, with the eldest aged 106. Elders in the Chinese Canadian community, marked by years of shame for the exclusion and discrimination they experienced, were reluctant to speak to their children about the bitterness of the past. They preferred to have their sacrifices recognized by better lives for their descendants. These descendants were amazingly successful in all professions and walks of life despite descrimination and lack of government support.


We have a special interest in the Guangdong and Taishan areas of Southern China that was birthplace of so many thousands of the early immigrants to Canada and America. Sue-On was born in the Choy family home in Toisan (Taishan). Her father and grandfather had lived and worked in Canada for decades, not allowed to bring their wives and family to Canada.. Her father made periodic trips back to China to sire more children and to build a large family home.

Sue-On has always been aware of her Toisan heritage and it was a thrill to return to the family home in 2017. For a number of years, Sue-On even served as a Toisan translator via three-way conversations for an American translator company. We have travelled extensively across North America, UK and England and most Asian countries and it was always exciting to meet so many people of Chinese heritage who spoke Toisanese in far-off countries around the world.

Wikipedia has identified a long list of famous Toisan People. The area has produced a tremendous number of famous people known internationally: politicians, artists, actors, musicians, restaurateurs, chefs, businessmen, fighter pilots, martial artists, writers, publishers, film people, educators, researchers, etc.

THE CHOY FAMILY: Interestingly, a great number of the achievements and occupations mentioned in the Wikipedia list are represented in the occupations and successful pursuits achieved by descendants of Sue-On's parents -- Soo and Jade Choy:
    Doctors ~ Surgeons ~ Nurses ~ Scientists ~ Provincial Court Judges ~ Entertainers ~ Singers ~ Musicians ~ Martial Arts Black Belts ~ Architects ~ Accountants ~ Therapeutic Massage Therapists ~ Computer IT Specialists ~ Restaurateurs ~ Chefs ~ Real Estate Entrepreneurs ~ Chief Lab Technicians ~ Dentists ~ Military ~ Athletes ~ Radiologists ~ Presidential Speech Writers ~ University Professors ~ Teachers ~ Businessmen ~ Loving Parents . . .

We have noted these connections in the links to the personal albums
we displayed on our opening



Bill and Sue-On Hillman
Eclectic Studio