Letter: The legacy of a small town’s kindness

In 1975, the US-Vietnam War ended. However, times of peace and prosperity did not last long for ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam. In 1978, relations between the governments of Vietnam and China started to deteriorate and anti-Chinese sentiments in Vietnam created further hardship for us. Life was made even more difficult as our little business, of selling wonton noodles, was taken away and we were not able to find work. We could not survive under those circumstances. For the future of our children, we would endure leaving a country that we have adopted to be our homeland with three young children. Like other ethnic Chinese who risked their lives with our children in tow, we journeyed out to the open South China Sea on a small wooden boat packed with 61 people (7 families). This boat had a sail and no motor. A fishing boat with a motor towed us halfway and then we were left to sail for the rest of the journey. For 12 days and nights we drifted in the sea, fighting with death and hardships of harsh weather, illnesses, and lack of food. Having been fortunate enough to survive the journey, we finally arrived in Hong Kong in May 1979 where we faced the question of whether we would be sent back to face the open sea again and the unlivable conditions we left. Many were turned back to Vietnam or China having survived the journey at sea. We were not sent back – we were the fortunate ones.
For the first 20 days in Hong Kong, we were sent to a warehouse. We were then lucky enough to be admitted into the Hong Kong refugee camp where we were given food and shelter along with 2000 other refugees. Men and women were separated in different living quarters. Ken became one of the cooks at the camp. We spent one year living as refugees in Hong Kong, uncertain about our future. Then, on May 13, 1980, we received news that the Canadian government Refugees Resettlement Program had accepted us into the program – we were matched with sponsors in McBride, B.C., Canada—a place we had never heard of. A wave of emotions came over us, but we felt mostly a sense of relief and incredible hope for the future of our children.
On 16 May 1980, we arrived in Edmonton, Alberta. From Edmonton, we took a flight to Prince George and were greeted by Joy and Terry. We remember the warm and welcoming reception we received at the airport. Their enthusiasm greeted us like we were their loved ones, and after a two-hour drive through beautiful mountainous terrain, we arrived in McBride. Joy and Andy, along with their five sons (Dave, Wesley, Charles, Steve and Stanley), opened up their home and welcomed us with open arms for which we are forever grateful. We didn’t speak a word of English. But we somehow were able to communicate with Joy and Andy, and the boys. We have very fond memories of our time with them—sightseeing, blueberry picking (and seeing a bear!), hunting, making homemade ice cream (and eating it), and learning how to milk a cow. We also received a lot of help and support from their church community. Church members took turns helping us to assimilate to our new country and our new home, teaching us English, taking the children to school, taking us to see a doctor, giving us monthly allowances. They cared for and helped us through life’s difficulties all of which we will remember. Not only did we receive help and support, the church community made a beautiful “Welcome to Canada” quilt for our family which we still cherish and use today.

You also helped Ken to find a job in the lumber mill which lasted for three weeks, due to a weakening Canadian economy. In order not to further burden everyone, our relatives helped Ken find a job in Cambridge, Ontario. Finally, in mid-January 1981, we left McBride, taking the train across Canada to Ontario. We settled in Cambridge. In these 40 years, we worked diligently to cherish the hard-won life, and the children also understand the pains of their parents and the amazing gift that you have given them. They all studied hard, striving for good results and have been successful in building their own careers and now have their own families. Because of your selflessness, passion and enthusiasm to help a family, we are forever grateful and forever proud to call Canada our home. Again, thank you for all have you have done for us and our children.

Ann Chan and Ken Chan
Cambridge, ON

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