Lee Family

Lee family history as told to Kamloops Chinese Cultural Associatio

Rohda (Rhoda) Chow was born in Canton, China on December 21, 1910 to a Chinese-Canadian mother.  She immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, on Jan 13, 1913. Rhoda’s parents paid the $500.00 for her entry (an unfair and discriminatory process) when she was 2 years old, Rhoda was raised in Vancouver but did not attend school. In 1927 at age 15 she was match-married to Lee Chiang Kai (aka Lee Sing) and moved to Trail, B.C. as that city’s first Chinese woman. She did not learn English until she arrived in Trail and she never did learn to read or write in any language.
Lee Sing owned the Savoy Cafe and they lived above the business on Bay Avenue where Rhoda gave birth to 7 children; Lillian (1928), Pearl (1930), Stanley (1931), Henry (1934), William/Bill (1937), Peonie/Fenny (1939), and Donald/Don (1941).
In 1931 the family sailed for China where Allan was born in 1932. The family returned to Trail in 1933 leaving Lillian and Allan behind for two years to be educated before returning to Canada.

When the wars with Japan and the Communists erupted, both Lillian and Allan were trapped in China. In the meantime, Stanley died of appendicitis in May/1938 and Henry died of pneumonia in September/1938. It was a time of inconsolable sorrow.  Rhoda (Rose) started working in the cafe following the outbreak of WWII. She was a natural businesswoman. Despite her lack of formal education and being totally illiterate, her business acumen and her innate social skills were admirable.
The disastrous flood of 1943 devastated the business. The building contents were all lost and the damage beyond repair. The Savoy Cafe was closed. Lee Sing died in 1953.
Mrs. Lee worked two jobs daily and the children contributed where they couid. In 1955 the business was sold and renamed the Silver City Grill. She worked for the new owner.That business failed and in December 1956, Mrs. Lee re-assumed the business, renaming it the Moonlight Cafe. She tirelessly worked an 18-hour day. The cafe was open 364 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The only day it closed was Christmas Day when the front door was locked to the general public and the back door opened to all the regular, supportive customers for a complimentary 7-course turkey dinner and a shot-glass of cheer.

Mrs. Lee, who was known as Rose Lee, sold her business for the last time in1960 and moved back to Vancouver.  She resided in her beloved Chinatown where she connected with a new social group whose list of priorities included Mah Jong and bus riding. Because of her business experience and ability to communicate in Chinese and English, she was an invaluable resource for many of the Chinese, widows in particular, who needed to book appointments, travel from one place or another, make banking arrangements, etc. As well, she met and socialized with many of her former customers from Trail. In 1999 at 88 years of age Mrs. Lee succumbed to cancer.

Lillian never did return to Canada. In 1948, Lillian married a New Zealander, Eric Gin, and moved to Dunedin, New Zealand. They had 2 sons, Hong and Daniel, and 3 daughters, Virginia, Joyce and Annette. In the fall of 1966, Mrs. Lee flew to New Zealand where she and Lillian reunited for the first time since 1932.

Pearl, unable to secure a position at Cominco, moved to Vancouver with the Bank of Montreal and remained loyal to the B of M. She married Herb Chan of Vancouver and they had a son, Gregory, and a daughter, Sharon (Davis). Pearl died in of cancer 1984.
Allan was able to immigrate to Canada in 1949 when the Exclusion Act was repealed. After graduation he became a computer systems analyst and eventually moved to Toronto working for Nortel. He married Judy Tong of Timmins, Ontario. They had five children: Dawn, Quen, Anne (Hawn-Ian) , Jenny, and Bonnie (Irvine). They all live in Ontario. Allan died of diabetic complications in 2009.

Bill was Students’ Council President of J. L. Crowe in Trail in 1955, taught Physical Education for most of his seventeen years in the classroom, and was a secondary school administrator for his remaining eighteen years. Bill spent five years in Trail and thirty in Kamloops involved in education. He married Eileen Bristow of England and they had three sons: Christopher, Stephen and Richard. They lost Stephen in 1984. Bill is retired.

Penny was the first Asian female hired as office staff at Cominco. She married George Chong of Athalmere, B.C., and they had four children: Russell, Michael, Garrett and Pamela. They spent 10 years in Mission before settling in Coquitlam. Penny retired after 22 years with the Coquitlam School Board

Don became a teacher spending most of his teaching years in Vancouver while living in Coquitlam. He captained the B.C. Softball Team at the first Canada Summer Games hosted in Halifax in 1969 where they won the Gold Medal.  He was also instrumental in co-writing the Premier Sports Volleyball Manual for the Province of B.C. He married Dorothy Hooper of Winnipeg and they had a daughter, Danelle (Sinclair). Don is retired.

Mrs. Lee was a forward looking person; of prime importance to her was that her children assimilated into the Canadian culture.  This outlook in large measure explains her position regarding the Head Tax.  Her message to her family was that the Head Tax was grossly unfair, but it allowed her children a superior life to that which was likely in China, and that any recompense due to the Head Tax should be contributed to the Lee Association of Vancouver who would, in turn, help those in need in the Chinese community.
The Kamloops Chinese Cultural Association is indeed very proud to have had the opportunity to present this Lee family history to interested groups or students studying our Chinese history.