Mary Mohammed (née Ling) was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her mother, Mrs. How Ling (née Chong Toy Sing) was born in China and sold in early childhood to a wealthy Chinese merchant family in Vancouver as a mui tsai, or servant girl. When How (George) Ling’s first wife died in childbirth, he chose Chong Toy Sing as a second wife in 1918. The Lings became the second Chinese family to settle in the city of Halifax. They worked a farm on the north end of the city overlooking Africville, and their daughter Mary grew up as her mother’s helper and closest confidante. When their farm was sold to developers, the family opened the Imperial Café in downtown Halifax, which served Western food to the many sailors and soldiers coming through the city during the war. In the 1950s, Mary and her mother assisted new Chinese immigrants adjust to life in Canada. But when Mary became engaged to a Trinidadian scientist, Halifax’s Chinese community ostracized the Ling family. Mary went on to raise four children and opened up the popular Halifax baked-goods business, Mary’s Bread Basket.
In this photo, Halifax’s Chinese community sits for a group portrait on V-J Day, celebrating victory in the Pacific during World War Two. Comprised of mostly ‘bachelor’ men, the group stands in front of the Lee Society House on Grafton Street, once the Chinese district of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Though small, Halifax’s Chinese community rallied together to raise money for the war effort.