Kong Family

The life and family history of Kong Tsin (Tom)
after arriving in Canada and paying the 
Chinese Head Tax

Tom Kong disembarked from the ship that brought from Bak Shai, Kwantung Province in China to Victoria, B.C. on July 5, 1912.

His Head Tax certificate states that his name was Tsin Kung, but he was always known by his English name, Tom.  He was 26 years old at the time of his arrival and like most male Chinese immigrants during that period in Canada’s history; he was forced to come to Canada on his own.  Little is known regarding his early experiences in Canada, but it is evident from the copy of his Head Tax paper, that he was forced to pay the sum of five hundred dollars to enter this country and would have had to seek employment as soon as possible in order to support himself 

Tom was an educated man, well versed in Chinese classics and an accomplished calligrapher.  He had a vast knowledge of Chinese traditional medicines.  It is surmised that he most likely was taught, and perhaps practiced as an herbalist in China.  Because he was well-educated and could read and write English, one of his earlier known jobs was teaching in a Catholic Chinese Mission school, which was situated three or four blocks east of Chinatown in Vancouver.

Not long after his arrival, Tom married May, in what is thought to have been an arranged marriage, which was very common in Chinese culture.  His bride May, was quite young at the time, but the marriage was a long and fruitful one that produced thirteen children.  May was a remarkable woman, who had come to Canada with her stepbrother, “Uncle George”.

At some time earlier on, the family lived for a while in the town of Colonsay, Saskatchewan.  Colonsay is a small town just east of Saskatoon.  Unfortunately there is no information regarding their time there.  It is known however, that Tom worked in Vancouver shipyards during the Second World War.  His job would have been carpentry work in the shipyards.

Prior to the war, May came in contact with the Wing Wing troupe of Chinese acrobatics from China.  She learned from them how to train her own children in the art of acrobatics and at the urging of her first born child Margaret; she formed a troupe consisting of her children and herself.  This group performed all over the Northwest, in both Canada and the United States.  During the war they helped Canada sell War Bonds to help support the war effort.  As the years passed and the children grew up, a new second group of acrobats were trained by May.  This group included some of the first group, but added in some of the younger children.  They continued to perform until approximately 1949.

In 1944 Tom purchased a restaurant called Glenburn Fish and Chips in Burnaby, B.C.  Since his wife and some of his children were often away performing during the early years, he had a great deal of responsibility for the running of the restaurant.  Every morning he would leave the family home in East Vancouver, stop in Chinatown to buy fresh produce and head to the restaurant.  He was forced to do this every day, as the family did not own a vehicle large enough to carry fresh

food for more than a day.  The menu at the restaurant was an ecletric one, Chinese, western and of course fish and chips. In these early years Tom was a cook, waiter and dishwasher and received help from those children not in the troupe, or from May and the rest when they were home.  When the days of acrobatics performances were over, the whole famlily ran the business.  

May and Tom purchased a home in the west area of Vancouver in approximately 1950.  Previous to this they had lived in East Vancouver in a home that housed twelve children.  Once moving to their new dwelling there were still seven of their offspring living at home.  This house served a home for the children for many years. 

Tom, May and some of their children worked in the restaurant until Tom’s retirement in 1963 or 1964.  Tom remained very active, looking after his own landscaping until he was well into his 90’s.  He passed away in 1975 at the age of 96.

Upon her retirement, May continued to look after the running of the house, caring for her husband and those children who were still living ther until her death about 1972.  As with many of us, Tom and May’s real legacy is their children and the contributions that they have made to their parent’s adopted country.  The first born child was Margaret, who died of polio at the age of 19.  As was mentioned, she was the child that persuaded her mother to teach the children how to become acrobats.  The next child Wilson, was a dental technician, followed by Dorothy, who was a homemaker.  The next child born was Stanley, who was a restaurant owner and entrepreneur.  The fifth oldest was Harry.   He was a dress designer for the David Crystal company and an illustrator for Vogue Magazine in New York.  He was also a very gifted artist.  

Following Harry was Glen.  Glen was an Ear, Eye, Nose and Throat Physician (Otolaryngologist).  Number seventh is Jean, and after her the eighth child was born.  The ninth child is Kathryn, who is a homemaker, as is the tenth child Rose-Marie.  The eleventh and twelfth child were born followed by Vincent, who received his BA and LLB from the University of British Columbia and has just recently retired from practicing law in Kamloops, B.C.

It is through the bravery and hard work of immigrants such as Tom Kong and his wife May that our country has grown to be the remarkable place to live in that is today.  We owe people such as this a debt of gratitude for their sacrifices and willingness to work hard to make a better life for themselves and the families in spite of the indignities and bigotry that they were forced to endure.