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THE ROAD CHOSEN: The Story of Lem Wong

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It is the sweat and sacrifice of immigrants that often lift their children to great accomplishments and contribution. This is the legacy of a Chinese immigrant, Lem Wong, celebrated by filmmaker Keith Lock.

Lem Wong was only 14 when he arrived in Canada from China in 1897. His father had died and he had begged an uncle to let him travel with him in the hold of a sailing ship. Together they found work in the Chinese laundries of Vancouver.

Lem had received a genteel education in China, but in Canada his quilted coat, felt shoes and pigtail relegated him to the status of a menial worker. He earned a quarter of a white man's wages. Racism was rampant. There were fears that the frugal Chinese would underbid European settlers in the labour market.

Hopping freight trains, Lem Wong worked his way across Canada, toiling in Chinese laundries, on the prairies, in Montréal, Springhill, Nova Scotia and finally Sydney, Cape Breton Island. After five years, he had saved enough for a two way steerage ticket back to Canton. He found a wife and married in China, returning to Canada alone.

Wong invested in a London, Ontario laundry and faced a head tax of $500 to transport his wife, her feet still traditionally bound, to his adopted country. In 1914, he opened a restaurant in London, Wong's Cafe. It was described as "the sort of place every fellow wanted to take his girl." He brought in orchestras, helping launch the career of local musician Guy Lombardo, and he ran supper dances. But to Lem Wong, his greatest gift to his new country, and the source of his deepest pride, was the education and accomplishments of his eight children which include three doctors, a professor of chemistry and a lawyer.

Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Keith Lock's tribute to a canny entrepreneur and restauranteur provides a rare insight into the Confucian precepts and dogged determination of many early Chinese immigrants.


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