Since the early 1990’s Canadians have come together every May to celebrate Asian Heritage Month, a time to reflect upon the long and rich history of Asian Canadians whose contributions to their community and inclusive rhetoric has helped to shape Canada into a vibrant, inclusive and compassionate society.
During this year’s Asian Heritage Month, the Garden paid tribute to five community heroes and heroines in our weekly social media posts: Foon Hay Lum, Joe Wai, Vivian Jung, Roy Mah and Margaret Jean Gee. Although life took them in different directions, and though they may have never met each other, these men and women were united by their desire to enhance our diverse cultural spectrum and to conquer a multitude of rights and freedoms we now enjoy.
Each of them overcame tremendous obstacles to succeed in spite of racial discrimination, bringing their talents and resilience to the forefront.
Take the example of Foon Hay Lum(1908-2020), a vocal advocate for Chinese-Canadian rights, and founding partner of the Chinese Canadian National Council, who was separated from her husband for more than 30 years by the Chinese immigration ban and later helped secure a formal apology and compensation from the Federal Government for all Chinese Canadians who paid the head tax.
Vivian Jung(1924-2014) was Vancouver’s first Chinese-Canadian teacher, a profession she wouldn’t have been able to practice had she not courageously taken a stand against rules which prevented non-whites from accessing public pools until 1945. Knowing that she needed a lifesaving certificate to complete her teacher training, Jung enlisted the support of her instructor and classmates in a protest which led to the end of the ban on non-white access to public swimming pools.
The Chinese Exclusion Act also barred Chinese Canadians from the legal profession until 1947 at which time Margaret Jean Gee (1927-1995) became not only the first woman of Chinese descent to be called to the bar in Canada and to practice law in British Columbia, but also the first female Chinese-Canadian pilot officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force Reserves.
Born 33 years after the head tax on Chinese immigrants had been approved through the Chinese Immigration Act, Roy Mah’s (1918-2007) life and legacy inspire us to transcend our differences and to stand against hate and discrimination. Growing up he faced many instances of racial discrimination, including segregated seating in cinemas or separate schools, but where most people would see obstacles, he saw opportunity.
“I always want to fight for a cause, especially for a just cause. Fight for civil liberty, fight for equal rights, fight for a fairer society”
Mah served in the Canadian armed forces during WWII and encouraged hundreds of others to do the same, believing that wartime service by Chinese-Canadians would hasten the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act and win them the right to vote.
The incredibly inspiring Asian-Canadian history in Vancouver and across Canada is still vibrant and present. You can experience it not only when you stroll through the colourful and dynamic Chinatown neighborhood but also in the hearts of a new generation of proud Chinese Canadians. Take the example of Mya Ling, an 11 year old whose Asian Heritage Month grade 6 project featured Joe Wai.
I think it’s important that we spread awareness and educate others about the rich history of Chinese people. By educating others, this helps celebrate diversity. “Diversity is our strength” is the message we should continue to embrace.
Often described as a soft spoken man with a gentle but fierce personality, Joe Wai(1940-2017) was a community leader, activist and volunteer, spearheading initiatives and civic projects that both promoted and protected Chinatown’s unique culture and character. Wai’s final project Villa Cathay Care Home, became the first non-profit care home in Vancouver specializing in culturally oriented services for Chinese seniors.
According to Executive Director Szuchi Lee, Wai provided enormous leadership in moving the rejuvenation project of Villa Cathay forward. “The guidance, support, and advocacy that he gave to Villa Cathay contributed to the success of our redevelopment.”
Now in Phase 2, the Villa Cathay Rejuvenation Project aims to build an adjoining three-storey pavilion to its new east tower to serve an additional 97 seniors who require long-term care and are currently waiting for homes, for a total of 224 residents. The fundraising efforts for the Project however, have come to a standstill during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the care home had to focus on fundraising for the necessities to combat the pandemic, including purchasing PPEs and implementing all the new infection control protocols to safeguard the seniors in Villa Cathay.
In support of Joe’s legacy, the Garden is working together with Villa Cathay to bring awareness to the needs of their residents and staff, and to ensure that Joe’s final contribution to the community is realised.
Together in collaboration with our partners and community we are working to raise $10.000 to support Villa Cathay’s recovery efforts. Making a difference may seem like an enormous task, but it is the collective effort of everyone that will ultimately provide these seniors with a new home. It is because of joint efforts like mother-daughter Lorraine Lowe and Mya Ling who have raised $400, that we start this fundraiser with confidence and hope of not only reaching but maybe surpassing our goal.
Joe Wai believed that “people of goodwill and good faith will resolve issues as they come, however seemingly complex”, and we hope that together, we can solve this issue to further strengthen the community Joe loved.
As we honour the past, reminiscing and cherishing the echoes of the lives of these pioneers, we carry their legacy forward and stand up against injustice and racial discrimination.
You can find additional details about donating to Villa Cathay Care Home here
For more information about Villa Cathay Care Home and other ways you can make a difference, please click here