"He and his brothers had education. Consequently, he was able to learn English quickly and he translated for the CPR. It was probably one reason why he worked so long for the CPR. He worked ... from the late 1870s right through to the 1920s."

- Judi Michelle Young

Judi Michelle Young

Toronto artist Judi Michelle Young's father, Yong Hong Yan, arrived in Victoria, B.C. in the late 1870s, with three brothers with the first shipload of Chinese workers contracted to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Over his long lifetime, Yong Hang Yan moved back and forth many times between China and Canada. He was forced to pay the discriminatory head tax on Chinese three times when he re-entered the country, despite having been granted citizenship in 1899.

Around 1905-6, he paid $50 after he went to China to marry his first wife. In 1908, he paid $100 after he returned to Canada with his second wife, who wasn't allowed to stay. In 1910, he paid $500 each for himself and his second wife, who finally made it into the country. When Yong Hang Yan stopped working with the CPR, he moved his family to Montreal where he started a family grocery store. His second last trip to China was in search of a third wife.

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"By the 1930s, I think, the second wife was very ill and she was the one that initiated the fact that he should remarry someone else to look after him," says Judi, adding that her mother, who was orphaned as a child, was then in her twenties and working for a family that had taken her in as a maid. "When he married my mother in the 1930s, I would say somewhere around 1934, he was already in his seventies."

After the marriage, her father returned to Canada alone since the 1923 Exclusion Act barred almost all immigration by Chinese. Back in China, Judi's mother gave birth to a son, who died shortly after from starvation.

The final trip was at the end of World War II. Judi's father returned to China to reunite with her mother. They tried to settle in his ancestral village of Panyu, now a suburb of Guangzhou, but were driven back to Canada by the Chinese Communists, this time with their infant daughter, Judi.

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Judi tells her father's story ...

Judi recounts how her father paid the head tax ...

Judi continues narrative of her father's life ...