David Chu's paternal grandfather left his native Toishan County in China in 1918, following the footsteps of his own father and grandfather, who laboured on the Canadian Pacific Railway, to establish their family in Canada.
By the time his grandfather was put on board the Empress of Ireland passenger ship bound for Canada, much of the work on the railway was finished. He was only 14, but his family paid $500 for a head tax certificate, gambling on the opportunities afforded by a life in Gold Mountain. "You know, he would always tell us this document was important and he carried it every day ... This cost him two years' salary and it gave him the legal status to bring my father over," David says.
"So it's the price of admission to this country and they willingly paid that."
Many Chinese who came to North America, predominantly from the Say Yip, or "Four Counties" area of Guangdong Province, left home in search of greater opportunities and, in some cases, to escape famine and poverty. "If you looked at our village, our ancestral village ... it was our ticket out of poverty, out of the Third World," says David.next page >
David's grandfather worked hard to build an empire around his laundry business in Toronto. He brought over his youngest son, David's father, who was born in 1935, sometime after World War II. David was born in 1957 in Espanola, Ontario. He is the first of his generation to be born - and recognized - as a Canadian.
"If our forebears hadn't made that journey, we'd all end up growing up in some village, knee-deep in some rice paddy, and you know we're fortunate to be born in this country, with the opportunities this country has offered us," David says.< previous page