"... my Grandfather [Stanley] married a woman [Constance] that was already here ... our families seem to tick, tick along without the implications of the Exclusion Act and the head tax ..."

- Brian Joe

Brian Joe

Brian Joe from Burnaby, B.C., is the great-grandson of Chinese storeowner and former railway worker On Lee, who settled in Yale, B.C. On Lee was one of two shopkeepers (the other was Cheng Ging Butt) in the small town that boomed during the gold rush of the late 1850s and then again with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Brian's grandmother is On Lee's daughter, Constance, who was one of three daughters and three sons, all born in Yale. Brian's grandfather Stanley was born in China in 1867 - the year Canada was legislated into existence - and landed in British Columbia in 1883, at the age of 16, to work on the railway.

The family boomed in the next generation with Constance and Stanley having 13 children. One daughter married into the Cumyow family, headed by Won Alexander Cumyow, the first Canadian-born Chinese in 1861 in Port Douglas, B.C. Stanley and Constance moved to Vernon, in the fruit-growing Okanagan region. Most of their children would later move to Vancouver, but one son, Walter, Brian's father, stayed on in Vernon, where a small Chinese Canadian community was forming with the Kwong, Wong and Joe families at its core.

next page >

Born in Canada in 1916, but Chinese and without citizenship rights under Canadian law, Brian's father fought to be recognized as a Canadian. He tried to join the air force when World War II broke out, but was turned away because he was Chinese. He was able to enlist later, when more recruits were needed. "One of his best arguments was that, 'If I'm a tail-gunner on a plane and I shoot the enemy down, does he know who shot him?'" Brian says.

< previous page

Brian talks about how his father tried to join the air force ...

Brian explains his family's long history in Canada ...