My grandfather will be remembered as a hardworking and modest man. He had simple needs. He was forthright and honest, a person with humble beginnings who placed a great value on education and friendship.
I will remember him as the only grandparent I ever knew. I will remember him as a man who was content with what life had given him. He never asked for much and in the years I knew him, he lived a simple life.
My grandfather's lifetime could be divided into three different parts.
He was born in An Kai Lai, Kaiping, Guangdong, China on May 29, 1909.
The direction of this early period started with his steamship voyage at the age of 14 from China to Victoria, B.C., Canada, in 1923. He was held in a holding cell until his 6th uncle came and paid the Head Tax.
His early life was marked with many obstacles and hardships. He worked as a kitchen aide and cook in various small towns in Saskatchewan, where he learned to speak and write English. He developed an independence that I could still see during the time that I knew him. At age 19, he returned to China in 1928 to get married to Der She Chow, returning to Canada alone in 1930.
He lived through the Great Depression of the 1930's in Saskatchewan, becoming prematurely grey in his 20's. He didn't talk much of this period of his life. From the bits and pieces he shared with family, it was a very difficult time for him. However, he did learn the game of curling, a favourite Saskatchewan sport. His love of curling never left him. Up to his last days, it was the only event he thoroughly enjoyed to watch on TV. He even timed his meals around the curling schedules. It gave him great pride whenever Canada won the world titles.
From 1943 to 1960, he purchased and operated the Liberty Caf?in Elrose, Saskatchewan. Despite the long days in the restaurant business, he developed many close and valued friendships with the Canadian townspeople and farmers within the community. People called him "Lee" and loved his home-baked pies, sugar doughnuts, and fresh bread. When the surrounding farmers came into town for their supplies, it was a special treat to stop into the Liberty Caf?for coffee and a piece of pie. He took pride in his abilities and in the respect he had earned in the community.
He became a Canadian citizen in 1949 and arranged for his wife to join him in early 1950, after a separation of 20 years. At the late age of 41, my grandfather was able to start his family in Canada with the birth of his three children: my mom, Margaret, and two sons, my uncles, Harry and Kam. Also during this time period, he was able to assist extended family still in China by bringing over some nephews to Canada. It is good to see that all their families are presently thriving.
The second part of my grandfather's life covered another quarter of a century from 1960 to 1984 when he moved his family from Elrose to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He owned and operated a 3-story building in which many of the tenants were elderly Chinese. Besides being their landlord, his tenants became his friends and they trusted him to be their English translator in personal and medical matters. He was respected and active within the Chinese community in Moose Jaw. In the 1970's, he was able to sponsor another nephew, Tho Lim Der and his family, to Moose Jaw.
After my grandmother, Der She Chow, passed away in late 1982, my grandfather spent the third part of his lifetime in retirement in Burnaby, B.C., living with my parents and me. He spent the last 20 years of life in relatively good health. During the 92 years of his life, he spent more than 75 years in Canada. He helped many people and he fulfilled some heavy responsibilities. Through it all, he remained a practical man with simple needs. Perhaps this was a secret to his longevity.
My grandfather was a man who touched each of our lives in different ways: as a father, as a grandfather, as an uncle, and as a friend.
I will remember him growing snow peas in the garden. I will remember him teaching me card games. I will remember him laughing at how hot it is in the summer, how cold it is in the winter, how rainy it is in the spring, and how windy it is in the fall. I will remember carving pumpkins with him on Halloween. I will remember joining him on walks as a child. And on those walks stopping to talk to neighbours. Neighbours who'd greet him as if they've known him for years. Just from his daily walks, he'd gotten to know everyone in the neighbourhood, and everyone had gotten to know him. I don't think his small town roots ever left him. He was a man who held basic values of trust, honesty, integrity, and friendship.
It is so difficult for my generation to understand the hardships endured by those who walked before us. Seldom do we recognize the sacrifices made for us. Hearing stories of my grandfather's life, I cannot imagine what it must have been like. Such a life is not lived without courage, determination, and perseverance. It's true that the battles and times we face now are different than those of the past, but we can always draw from the knowledge that we too can find inner strength during hard times just as he did.
So as we commemorate his life, we celebrate the legacy he has left us. His legacy is in his family and his friends. His legacy is the people that he has helped, and in the lives that he has touched. He has left us a history. A history of pride in culture and of pride in family. And now this history is in our hands to carry on where he left off.
He will be greatly missed and always remembered.
July 16, 2001