His Oral Memory of Two Nations

Some of these stories are recalled by Ed Hong-Louie, Vhalleri Hohn, Ben Yee, and Janet Yee.

Interview Ben Yee as researched by Teddy Kwok

Ben Wee Foy Yee (余偉奎)

Ben Yee came in 1951 to join his father, Nin Fon Yee (余年院, also known as George). It just so happened that Nin Fon Yee was one of the employees of Louie Hong in Cluny long before Ben’s immigration. Ben said that Louie was a customer and/or supplier of Ben’s father’s restaurant, Crystal Café, in downtown Calgary. Ben recalled that the Chinese community in Chinatown of Calgary generally knew Louie Hong as a businessman who married “an Indian princess”, Nellie Hong.

There were only a handful of Chinese families with the wife also lived in Chinatown of Calgary before perhaps 1967, the year recognized as the liberalization of Canadian immigration policy. Due to the fact that there were disproportionately low of female Chinese Canadian population, that was why, for some single males or even married ‘bachelors’ may marry or be a common-law of a local wife, the wife usually was an Aboriginal if not the same race,” said Ben Yee.

Ben, the one on the right with shiny jacket, was photographed with his friend Circa 1950’s on the street as a young teen first coming to Calgary. (Photo provided by Ben Yee)
The photo was taken during an interview at his home in Calgary on September 15, 2017. (Teddy Kwok)

On May 1947, the Canadian Parliament repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act (or known as the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923). Chinese were once again allowed to immigrate to Canada; however, this restricted to the dependants of Chinese Canadian citizens1.

Ben Yee, born in 1937, immigrated to Calgary under this category in 1951, as the fourth generation of immigrants, following the footsteps of his great-grandfather (Yee Hang Wo 余恆和) , and father. However, his grandfather (Wing Tun Yee) who Ben never met was in the Philippines and killed in WWII.

Upon immigrating, he went to James Short School for a couple years, along with other Chinese immigrants. Working mostly around Alberta and one time in BC, in grocery stores, farms, laundries and restaurants. Ben then worked for his dad’s restaurant, Crystal Café, on the second block of 9 Avenue southwest in downtown.

“This was the only line of work for Chinese. Because of race, you cannot do anything else or work with other people except Chinese,” recalled Ben Yee.

During his daily work life, Ben encountered some Aboriginals, with the vast majority being males as they are relatively more educated among the communities, while Aboriginal women and children are believed to live on Reserves.

“They were generally nice, and we had ‘hi-bye’ social life. We sometimes had casual chats, but it really depended whether they were drunk,” said Ben.

Ben continued, “Even they were pretty drunk, they didn’t often create a disturbance or be a riot. They don’t make trouble.”

Locals in downtown Calgary, back in the days, often visited beer parlour before and after supper time; Aboriginals who mostly lived around downtown east and worked as day labour used to hang out likewise.

Ben recalled, “Drunk Caucasians, indeed, sometimes fooled around at our restaurant, and Aboriginal folks, who are also customers, became like a peacemaker between us [Caucasians (whites) and Chinese] as if they have such [moral] obligation.”

He believed that Chinese and Aboriginals, with similar skin colour tone, were somewhat “weak minorities” in the eyes of Caucasians, making two ethnic groups occasionally “united together” to voice out concerns when unjust incidents or oppression occurred, even if, Ben admitted, nothing much could be changed.

He said, “We could not rebel, or even so, it was useless.”

“The Indian people lost their identity, the white people took it – how do you fix it? The drink has made them forget. The Chinese culture always on your mind.”

Today, the impression of Aboriginals has been changed in the view of Ben. He said, “They likely have a full-time job and more educated. They less rely on government’s financial help. This is such a good change to society.” Ben continued, “they have to do for themselves – no one can tell them who they are. They make their own laws now to ‘block’ white people from making them lose their identity.”

Remembering my grandfather, Nin Fon Yee by Janet Yee

My grandfather came to Canada in 1921 at the age of 13 to join his grandfather; he died in 1989. I remember some of the stories that need to be told. I wished I listened more.

Sitting on a patio table on 8th Avenue Mall across from Hudson Bay in Calgary, my grandfather and I were eating ice cream. I was a child given the responsibility of ‘taking care’ of grandpa when going downtown.

An Aboriginal Man sat down with us and asked, ‘how’s my kind of people?’ My grandfather responded in a language that I did not understand. Grandpa and Aboriginal man spoke for what seems like hours, and I did not understand a word. I asked grandpa what he was speaking. He gruffly said, ‘I speak Indian’. At the time, ‘Indian’ was the term for Aboriginals.

Coming at the age of 13 by ship, my grandpa was entrusted by another Chinese man who robbed him. Leaving him detained at a port in British Columbia with nothing. He was met by his grandpa who he only lived a brief time. He did not even have money for a thread to sew his only tattered pants. However, it was the Aboriginals who helped him survive. When he was sick, no Caucasian doctor would touch him. Instead, it was only the Aboriginals who would treat him. I falsely used to think that my grandpa was bitter against the white people when he said in our Toisan language, a southern Chinese dialect, “the lo fan gree (white devil) would not touch me! They would not care – they would rather see me die.”

One day while at the restaurant, my sister said something negative about the Aboriginal people. She received a slap across her mouth; a never-ending lecture that we do not ever speak like that again. ‘Yeen Cheen’ Aboriginals were always good to him.

Towards his older years grew dementia, grandpa would often scream, yell and lecture people in his flashes of memory. I could never really ‘place’ where he was. One day, I heard him mumble in his aged and past memory, and when he started to speak of the ‘Yeen Cheen’s’, his eyes swelled with sad tears and he could speak no more.

For more about this research: Aboriginals & Chinese Then and Now

According to Library and Archives Canada:

By the early 1950’s, the Chinese were a declining, aging population. The ‘married bachelors’ had been cut off from all contact with their families for almost a decade. The 1951 census revealed a decline from 34,627 in 1941 to 32,528 in immigration numbers a decade later. Full immigration did not occur until 1956 when the federal Order in Council P.C. 2115 was repealed. In human terms, this meant that for the first time in the history of the Chinese in Canada, Chinese Canadians could sponsor adult children and aging parents.”
(http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/eppp-archive/100/205/301/ic/cdc/generations/postwar/endexclusion.html)

References:

  1. Cluny and District Historical Society (1985) Memories of Cluny: a story of Cluny and the surrounding districts: Cluny, Ouelletteville, Crowfoot Creek, Blackfoot Reserve in Alberta Canada. Alta: Inter-Collegiate Press (2002, January 1) pp. 98-104, 435-437, 553, 639, 673 Retrieved from http://www.ourroots.ca/toc.aspx?id=13231&qryID=22bd4911-508c-4ba4-9198-36d62d1d2371
  2. Alberta Settlement: Book Excerpt: Louie Hong (2001, February 3). Retrieved from http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/eppp-archive/100/200/301/ic/can_digital_collections/pasttopresent/settlement/chinese_hong.html
  3. Voices of Alberta: Louie Hong’s Life on The Canadian Pacific Railway. Retrieved from http://changemakerbios.weebly.com/louie-hong-by-lucas.html
  4. Voices of Alberta: Louie Hong and Wong Yet. Retrieved from http://changemakerbios.weebly.com/louie-hong-and-wong-yet-by-ally.html
  5. Harvey McCue, Harvey (2015, April 22). Reserves Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-reserves/
  6. Obituaries: Hong, Henry (Hank) Retrieved from http://www.yourlifemoments.ca/sitepages/obituary.asp?oid=964102
  7. Dawson, J. B. , & Dawson, P. M. (1991) Moon Cakes In Gold Mountain: From China to the Canadian Plains Calgary, Alta. : Detselig Enterprises

A Blending of Nations

Some of these stories are recalled by Ed Hong-Louie, Vhalleri Hohn, Ben Yee, and Janet Yee.

Is the blending of nations a story of shame and pain? Or is it a story of courage and pride? Or both? And is the blending of nations only through bloodlines or does it encompass living together in a caring community?” These questions which arise by Vhalle Hohn (grand-daughter of Louie Hong), born to Mary Chang (Duncan, BC) and Henry (Hank) Hong (Cluny, Alberta) is one of the backbones of this research.

Vhalle is rooted in Aboriginal, Chinese and European blood; born in Canada, She is a Canadian. Both her grandfathers were born in China and immigrated to Canada, and both married outside Chinese bloodlines. The focus of this story is to talk about the blending of Aboriginal and Chinese people in Alberta.

By Vhalle T. Hohn as researched by Teddy Kwok

Louie Hong ()1 immigrated to Canada in the late 1800’s looking for the promises of the Gold Mountain.

His journey started as a cook for the Canadian Pacific Railway and later as one of the crew members for the building of the Kananaskis dam project.1 His family knew him as an industrious, hardworking man. In the winter of 1910, Louie cooked for one of Alberta’s Big Four ranchers, Pat Burns.22 As Pat and his ranch-hands herded cattle back and forth across the Alberta Prairies, Louie scrounged for firewood so he could keep them fed.

Around 1913 Louie homesteaded in Cluny3, Alberta, where he built and ran several successful businesses. Over the next 80 years Louie supplied people with everything from eggs to fencing, it was the only place to buy supplies for miles around, it serviced people on the reservation as well as farmers4. His businesses included the Louie Hong General Store, a confectionery, laundry service, a hotel, restaurant, a DODGE dealership and at one time a bank. 1,3,4 Life on the prairies was harsh, living through The Great Depression with nine children, Louie and Nellie did what they had to do to support their family.

According to Mrs. Brenda Dingwall, whose husband, Donald, knew Louie before he ever opened a business in Cluny, said that Louie was once “the cook on the cook-car” and he was known as “a great friend to all the older Indian people, as he could speak and discuss things with them and help settle many misunderstandings”.1

Cluny is located on the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and in its time was the supply hub for all of the local farmers. Not only was the CPR the major mode of transportation in the early 1900’s, it was also the boundary between the Siksika Nation reserve (Siksika 146); the south side of the tracks belonged to the Siksika. In more than a century ago, the town’s population was mainly made up of French immigrants, Aboriginal people and two Chinese families (the Hong and Quong families).1

Despite having two wives and family in China, Louie married Nellie (nee: Tuck also known as Nellie Bertha Chin) in 1925. According to Edward Hong-Louie (Ed; 雷京權), fourth child of Louie Hong, his mother was “purchased” at the age of 15 – to have children and work in the store. Bride-buying was a fairly common practice at this time, especially for the Chinese.

Nellie and her two brothers were born to an Aboriginal (Chinook) father and Chinese mother. Though no records of birth are available, the family believes she was born in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. Prior to being sold as a bride, she was sold at a very young age to the Chin family as “a slave”. Being of mixed race was shameful for Nellie,Vhalle remembers her grandmother timidly speaking of the abuse she endured as a child; often locked up and beaten by her “mean aunt”.

Nellie was a tiny little woman of 4’10” who worked hard in the family store from 1925 until it’s closing in the 1980’s. “It is difficult to believe such a tiny woman had nine children,” Vhalle recalls, “she was such a gentle soul.” In order that she could continue to work in the store between pregnancies, Louie hired an English nurse, Mrs. F. Derksen, who raised the children and taught them the “English way”.

Nellie was multilingual. Ed remembers hearing his mother speak Chinook, and in order to do business it was necessary for her to learn Blackfoot from Louie. She also had to keep up her Chinese, as this was her husband’s first language5. Nellie passed away in 1998, predeceased by her two brothers and her husband.

From left: Millie and George Tuck, Nellie’s brother, with their son, Roland, Nellie and Louie Hong, Johnny Tuck, Nellie’s Brother – taken in Cluny 1960’s. (Photo provided by the Hong family.)

There were separate schools in the area, one for the Aboriginals and one in Cluny for everyone else6. A Catholic mission on the reservation housed and taught the Blackfoot children. Despite being educated separately, the Hong children developed many close friendships with their Blackfoot neighbours. They learned the language and were invited to fish and hunt on the Blackfoot land. Conversely, the Blackfoot people worked off the reservation and were very much part of the Cluny community.

Ed, currently resides in B.C., was photographed at outside a corner mall in Edgemont, a northwest community in Calgary on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. He and his niece Vhalle were interviewed for a history research on the relationship between Chinese and Aboriginal people in Alberta. (Photo taken by Teddy Kwok)

Henry Hong, second son of Louie Hong and father of Vhalle, had a very close relationship with the Blackfoot people.6 Vhalle says, “my Dad was a ‘blood-brother’ fully initiated as ‘Prairie Chicken’, he was named Sue Was Giss and honoured with a headdress and traditional beaded clothing, which I still have today.” With this initiation, Henry claimed he had Treaty Rights, though his card has never been found. Henry was very proud of his blended roots of Chinese and Aboriginal, he jokingly called himself a “Chindian”.

Vhalle’s family moved to Calgary when she was six. Her sister, Mavis and cousins Leslie and Tara (daughters of May Culham, nee: Hong, the eldest daughter of Louie Hong), would spend many of their summers in Cluny working in store. “We would stock shelves, sell candy, get orders together for customers, count money and sweep the floors. After working we would often go down to the Bow River on the Reserve to fish and swim”, Vhalle recalls.

Vhalle’s memories of the Hong Store are filled with sweet smells of tobacco and the wet smoked leather coats of Chief One Gun and Ben Calf Rope. They would sit for hours on a bench outside in the summer and on colder days beside the butcher shop rolling and puffing on cigarettes. Vhalle says, “I even can hear the song of the Blackfoot language as my grandfather chatted with them.”

However, as with most experiences, not all of her memories are so positive. Vhalle remembers when alcohol was legalized for the Aboriginal people which brought about changes to their community. Crime increased, which brought risks to the Hong Store. She can remember people breaking into the store looking for money and things like vanilla extract and spray paint. “One time, my poor little grandmother, who was living alone at the store, got beaten by someone who had broken in”, said Vhalle. Despite these few negative experiences, friendships between the Hong family members and the Blackfoot people remained strong for her father’s generation.

Vhalle and Ed recognize Aboriginal blood as part of heritage. Throughout her life, Vhalle has volunteered and will continue to volunteer in the communities where she lives. It is important to her to bring awareness and encourage acceptance for diverse backgrounds. She says, “I have taught my children to embrace their diversity which includes encouraging them to engage as non-status Aboriginals at their universities. My children are proud of their heritage, they volunteer on campus and feel they can embrace this part of their identity through their involvement on campus.”

The Hong family honours Nellie’s tenacity, having lived through horrific experiences of shame and prejudice. They honour Louie’s courage and lessons of hard work that have opened doors of opportunity for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. This family believes the blending of nations has enriched their lives.

As a well-respected businessman, Louie Hong was described as a “community-minded, generous, a reliable friend who… garnered a legion of friends over a very large area of southern Alberta”.7 The older generations of the Chinese Calgarians well knew Louie and Nellie Hong.

For more about this research: Aboriginals & Chinese Then and Now

 

References:

  1. Cluny and District Historical Society (1985) Memories of Cluny: a story of Cluny and the surrounding districts: Cluny, Ouelletteville, Crowfoot Creek, Blackfoot Reserve in Alberta Canada. Alta: Inter-Collegiate Press (2002, January 1) pp. 98-104, 435-437, 553, 639, 673 Retrieved from http://www.ourroots.ca/toc.aspx?id=13231&qryID=22bd4911-508c-4ba4-9198-36d62d1d2371
  2. Alberta Settlement: Book Excerpt: Louie Hong (2001, February 3). Retrieved from http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/eppp-archive/100/200/301/ic/can_digital_collections/pasttopresent/settlement/chinese_hong.html
  3. Voices of Alberta: Louie Hong’s Life on The Canadian Pacific Railway. Retrieved from http://changemakerbios.weebly.com/louie-hong-by-lucas.html
  4. Voices of Alberta: Louie Hong and Wong Yet. Retrieved from http://changemakerbios.weebly.com/louie-hong-and-wong-yet-by-ally.html
  5. Harvey McCue, Harvey (2015, April 22). Reserves Retrieved from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/aboriginal-reserves/
  6. Obituaries: Hong, Henry (Hank) Retrieved from http://www.yourlifemoments.ca/sitepages/obituary.asp?oid=964102
  7. Dawson, J. B. , & Dawson, P. M. (1991) Moon Cakes In Gold Mountain: From China to the Canadian Plains Calgary, Alta. : Detselig Enterprises

End Notes:

1His Chinese name was Hong Louie, but immigration officials thought it “sounded better” if they switched his name, thus he was known in Canada as Louie Hong. Some of the descendants changed their last name to Hong-Louie to recognize the common mistaken change that happened to many Chinese immigrants. In this article, we address the family as “the Hong family”.

2According to interpreters from Bar U Ranch National Historical Site, Chinese cooks working at ranches in southern Alberta are dated back to before Alberta was given provincial status. Some cowboys were probably Aboriginals.

3Cluny was a village; incorporated in 1921.

4During the two World Wars, when goods were short, anything one needed could be found at the Hong General Store. However, there were several other stores since 1917: Quong Kee was operated until 1929; a store that operated by Fred Boisvert was sold to Louie Hong. 1

5Mae Mak, a Chinese tutor was hired in 1940 for a year and a half to teach the Hong children the Chinese language. 1

6The children of the Hong family who were in school in Cluny all had the same primary teacher Mrs Ann Reese (nee Riley).

An Interview with Elder Norman Running Rabbit

Aboriginals and Chinese: Then and Now

Elder Norman Running Rabbit

Interviewed and translated by Denise Black Kettle

Norman Running Rabbit, a member of Treaty 7 Blackfoot, was born in 1939 and raised on the Siksika Nation. His native name as a child was Si-Bisto (Owl) while his adult name is Me Som Si Bisto (Forever Owl). The ‘Running Rabbit’ is a big family with Irish blood and of Electricians, Plumbers, and Carpenters.

We, Running Rabbit, come from a good family, a large family. Friendly and not selfish. We are people of compassion”, he said continuing, “We had a good chief, Chief Running Rabbit, for 19 years. Right after Chief Crowfoot, Running Rabbit, he passed away when he was 97 years old. Stories that were told to me, Chief Crowfoot, still young at the time, he depended on Running Rabbit, as his right hand man.”

In 1956, at the age of 16 years old, Norman completed residential school. The Department of Indian Affairs rules when you have reached your 16th birthday you are considered as completed residential school. He chose a path to leave the reserve to work in the ‘white’ industry. The time he decided to leave, Norman left the reserve on a passenger train. With 65 cents in his pocket he gave up 35 cents and headed to Calgary. He slept at Sally Ann’s (Salvation Army) for 10 cents a night and a meal. “My grandparents were sad…I was warned by my grandparents and family that it was dangerous out there”. In, 1958, at the young age of 19 years old, he moved to the Artic, The Land of the Midnight Sun, to work for six and half months, for that period of time, he was only 800 miles from the North Pole. He went to the DEW line (Distant Early Warning) stations being the only indigenous person among over 700 white people working there at the time. He worked for the white industry for 40 years before returning home on the Siksika Nation.

As the first Aboriginal Probation and Parole Officer in Alberta, Norman also worked for the City of Calgary. He even worked at a Husky gas station, where Peter’s drive-in now sits. Working and the life experiences was really good for him. He said, “I did not take any bull from anybody. I am a hard-headed person. I learned the white ways of the white people. When the bad things started to happen to me, I turned the tables and used them against them [white people]. They backed off from me.”

Norman was hesitant to tell his stories because of trust – this is his first time telling his stories. He said, “White people always stealing our stories. Our stories are not to be repeated or disrespected or to be passed on. Our stories require permission to be shared. We have pride and values, which are very important to us. We never point fingers, we never name names. We are who we are, and we are generous people, ‘Nizitapi’ or the Real People – that’s the first value. We are swayed by these words of white people where you doubt your own values. Almost, destroyed our lives.” Although, Norman is fluent in English, he prefers his mother tongue Blackfoot during the whole interview. He continued, “Blackfoot language is a mouth full. Words are so long and hard to translate some concepts into English.”

The Connections Between Aboriginals and Chinese in Siksika First Nation

Stories of where they come from is told by a young man (unknown) and confirmed by his grandparents and Elders. Norman said, “The ‘Real People’ Blackfoot are known by this NAME because they are compassionate.”

Norman said, “We help people and we take them into our membership to become part of our Reserve and throughout our first nation’s lands…We come from the point of Siberia, originating from Mongolia (bordered by China and Russia). I heard the stories when I was just a young boy; when I learned to read – I found out.” Norman continued, “We travelled through the shallow of the Bering Strait. We must have stayed around there -before we entered the Baffin Seas to go around North West Passage along Alaska. We went through (now known as) Hudson’s Bay, North of Winnipeg, Manitoba. We were a large tribe; we settled in Red River Valley, Manitoba, the area of Winnipeg today. There were many other tribes that challenged us to war, like the hostile Iroquois. We travelled on through Saskatchewan- through Big Sandhills (Our Heaven) known as Drumheller.”

We rule because of the size of our population at the time. To describe it, ‘for as far as we can see, over the hills, and more, that is the size of our Nation’ – that is the size of the Blackfoot Nation. This is why the Navajos, the Apaches, the Arapahos, we went through their land without war. We were a nation respected as an aggressive military force. They knew how big our nation was. We occupied and owned, to this day, the Yellowstone Park. At the time there was only a small portion of our people occupied the land. When the government came the ‘Blackfeet’ Nation was formed.”

Norman continued, “Chief Charlie Running Rabbit was the main chief of that area. We were explorers and found the passage to Banff and west coast of B.C. We occupied and ruled most of the land West Manitoba.”

I was just a little guy so that was hard to describe when I heard it…hearing we come from Chinese ground. Based on the ways of our life, we have similarities”.

Norman discloses that the Chinese present their history very well. He said, “I listen to our grandparents’ stories and there’s not much difference in their description with association with the Chinese. Just from the top of my head, first of all, I’d like to tell you, you can record it. But don’t allow anyone to copy it or take it.”

Norman remembered that the First Nation of Siksika was very generous and welcomed the Chinese as they started arriving in a way Chinese children mingled with Aboriginal children and played together. He said, “They treated us so good they fed us. Some of the Chinese children had bikes and Aboriginal children had horses. So we traded bikes and horses.”

Norman said, “Chinese hunted and fished a lot on the reserve”. They didn’t have to worry about getting fishing and hunting license. Norman continued, “If Chinese were questioned they would say they were gifts from us.” There was a natural understanding and a natural bond between Aboriginal and Chinese.

Besides the history, sharing the values of generosity, language’s similarities, similar eating habits, mutual trust, and respecting older generations play the vital part with which Aboriginal and Chinese people get along.

Some of the verbal emotional expressions between Blackfoot and Chinese are so alike. Norman recalled an incident when he went to play bingo and said, “There was a young Chinese couple sat beside me. The girl was so excited, and I could tell this was the first time this young lady has played bingo. She was waiting for one number, and someone from the end of the hall called “BINGO”; she screeched ‘Ai yaah!’ with disappointment when she didn’t win.” Some of these expressions, such as, ‘ai yah’, are so similar between Blackfoot and Chinese to express exclamation of shock or disappointment.

The history of the construction of the CPR, relating to Chinese, has been well known. Norman shifts his focus briefly back to the memories of stories of many young, teen Chinese workers building the tracks of the CPR. He said, “Chinese people were starving and dying at young age in that period. Siksika people came across sick and dead Chinese bodies along the side of the railroad. The sick ones were brought back to Siksika.” Norman added, “When the railroad went through the Reserve, and when it was completed; the Chinese started arriving and wanted to stay and live on nation land.”

In Small Towns Surrounding Siksika Nation

Norman remembers some of the names of Chinese people who lived in the nearby towns surrounding Siksika Nation.

He said, “Louie and Jimmy Hong were the ‘cooks’ for the crew of farmers and helpers in Cluny. There were also Cookie and Harry’s Cafe in Vulcan; Bassano had Lenny’s restaurant and Harry’s restaurant; Siksika had Lou and brothers, Harry and Jackie.”

Particularly, “Louie Hong got off at a good place here. Louie would always order a lot of stock and stuff for his store. He and his wife, they got rich off this land. His wife travelled back and forth to Vancouver and Louie would sometimes travel with her too.” Norman continues, “Louie would have left-overs because he ordered too much like food, clothing, machinery, and equipment…In the early 1960’s, as I remember, Hollywood people found out at the time they were filming western movies, maybe natives were cowboys, I don’t know, but a wagon trailer came and took everything of worth from Louie’s store.”

Norman reiterated Louie Hong as ‘Native people are good people’. He said, “We had good relationship, always got along with each other. The fact is, we have similarities, background and history. We got along without saying ‘you Chinese’.”

Some Chinese people were being initiated into ‘Prairie Chicken Society’ a prestigious society. Norman said the First Nations never discriminated others. “Instead, they shopped more at the Chinese stores which caused friction between the Chinese and white people. The white people were jealous.”

Norman said “Chinese people were generous with their food then; and now, right today, they are stingy with their money.”

There was another Chinese family, across the tracks, they were the Kwong (phonetic spelling) family who owned a store. Charlie and his brother Fred Kwong. Charlie was a generous man but his brother Fred was not so generous. When Charlie passed away, Fred took over the restaurant. They, the Kwong’s had a vehicle, and Charlie would drive coal miners home for 5 cents.”

Norman said, “Charlie was the one who would give my dad and his brothers work, who are both carpenters, to renovate the store. They had the freedom of helping themselves to the store.” His dad would tell Charlie ‘I took this much’, and at that time, his dad would drive and deliver food supplies.

When Norman was young, he would go into town of Cluny to buy a whole chunk of baloney. Norman joked that, “Today you only get a few slices and just as you start to enjoy it’s all gone.” Eating habits show similarities too. Louie sold kidney too. Norman recalled, “Louie would say ‘come and eat Norman’, what do you want, Kidney?” Norman used to jokingly tell Louie not to wash the tripe so clean.

The Aboriginals and Chinese got along in Cluny, and so as in Gleichen. Norman said, “We got along with Lou, Jackie, and Harry.”

Jackie owned a confectionery corner store in Gleichen. He had a jukebox and an area for dancing. In the 1960s’, it was a popular hangout for Aboriginal youth.

When mutual trusts were established well between too nations, lives became simple. Norman recalled that the Chinese merchants would allow Aboriginal customers to take what they need on credit – sometimes by just writing down what they took and paid the bill later.

Norman said, “The thing is, seems to me, the Chinese people – once they know you – they tell you, ‘just help yourself you know where it is, little stuff like that.” A ration of $8.00 a month was distributed to each Nation member…trust would be “they would take what they need and write down on a pad what they take.”

Norman continues, “Chinese are humans just like us. We never argued with the Chinese people. They were good to us.”

Today, Norman continues to eat at Chinese restaurants. He still has a lot of Chinese friends and he still associates with them. But he adds that the “older Chinese people I once knew are dying off.”

The fact is the Chinese people and Aboriginal people believe that respecting elders are very important to the community and society, and this is why they get along. Norman said, “We share the same values and beliefs, ways of life. Chinese people want to accomplish the same as we do.”

For more about the project of Two Nations, please visit our YouTube Channel: Missing History 150

Coming Soon…

About Our Project

Exploring the early connections of Aboriginal and Chinese communities, fostering a better understanding of the history of the peoples of the Prairies…how the West was built, the whole picture.

As Canadians, we carry so many invisible stories that shape who we are. We are hoping people become more aware that there is MISSING HISTORY. We are hoping the stories will bring people together, build relationships and connect communities.

You may also visit our YouTube channel: https://goo.gl/xbbac3