From China to Red Deer — Frank Wong’s Canadian experience

Chosen by family to become breadwinner in ‘land of opportunity’

His Canadian story reflects the experience of many older Chinese immigrants.

Frank Wong, who came here from China as a child to be the “breadwinner” for his family, believes Canada was and is still the “land of opportunity where you can achieve anything you want.”

A few years ago, the Red Deer Museum had a special immigration exhibit, telling the story of Wong’s life and experience.

Wong, now 68, is a retired planner, and today serves as a Red Deer city councillor. As a young child, with his grandmother, he left Toi Shan, China, where he was born, and went to Hong Kong to live. He eventually came to Canada in 1958 when he was nine years old.

He arrived in Vancouver, under an assumed name then, with a couple posing as his parents. Years later, in 1970, an amnesty program allowed Chinese who had come to Canada illegally to remain if they were of good character and hadn’t participated in systemic illegal immigration. He then took back Wong as his real name.

Born Wong Woon Tong — he said he was proud that he was chosen as the breadwinner and able to join his grandfather in Saskatchewan. His great-grandfather had preceded them.

He was put in school but also started working in restaurants when he was about 12 in Swift Current and later Oyen when he moved there. Some of the money he earned was taken to send back to his parents.

After high school, Wong took architectural technology at SAIT in Calgary. That led him to a job in Red Deer in 1971 when he worked for the regional planning commission and then at a planning agency.

Wong said his parents wanted to come to Canada, and he worked three different jobs at once to bring them here. He had to have enough money in the bank to prove to authorities he could look after his parents, brother and sister. As the oldest son, he didn’t let them down. He said his family put their hope in him, and he did his job of bringing them to Canada.

Now he’s working on bringing the remains on some of his relatives, who are buried in Swift Current, to Calgary to be where his parents — who moved there in 1988 — were laid to rest.

His parents came to Canada in 1977, living for some years in Red Deer, becoming Canadian citizens and eventually residing in Calgary. In the 1960s, a lot of Chinese were immigrating to Canada, and many first generation Chinese Canadians took higher learning. Three of his cousins became pharmacists, Wong said.

Wong went to SAIT in Calgary, where he took Architectural Technology, and later took University of Alberta courses for an Applied Land Use Planning certificate. He was able to retire when he was 55, and some friends told him that with all his planning knowledge of the city, he should continue to put it to use. That resulted in him running for city council and being elected in 2004. He’s now in his fourth term.

Wong has retained his Chinese cultural heritage and has served for more than 30 years on the local Red Deer and District Chinese Community Society, as well as other community organizations.

Fifty years ago, as a high school student, he went to Montreal during Canada’s centennial to visit Expo 67. In the country’s 150th year, he said he’s happy Canada became his home.

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