Tuesday, 18 November 2014
In this latest of her books, Lives of the Family: Stories of Fate and Circumstance, Ms. Chong's intention was to explore the immigrant experience, living with memories, often mired in loneliness and longing for the familiar, but committed to making the transition to a new land. Ms Chong wanted a small-town Canada setting in the early and mid-20th century. She chose to focus on the towns in and around Ottawa, and on those people who were among a town’s few or only Chinese family. One of the three families selected for her book was the Johnstons of Perth.
In the late 1890s, Harry Fong (the church changed his surname to Johnston) was first a laundryman, then opened Harry’s Café, now The Stone Cellar, in Perth. Harry’s life came to a tragic end when a driverless parked car rolled and pinned him against a building by the bridge. However, Harry had bought property, and, in time, his widow, Mabel, would become a successful businesswoman. By the time of her death in 1965, she was a millionaire.
At our November 20 meeting, Ms. Chong will speak about what brought the Chinese to the small towns, rather than settling in the larger cities amongst others with a common culture. Her talk will be illustrated with photographs, and she will read excerpts from her book. She will also introduce Mabel’s niece, Linda Hum, whose father, Jasper, was a long-time cook at Harry’s Café.
Denise Chong was born in Vancouver and grew up in northern B.C., in Prince George. She began her working life as an economist for the Federal Government, eventually becoming senior economic advisor to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. When he left office, she began to write. She is best known for her family memoir, The Concubine’s Children, a Globe and Mail best-seller for 93 weeks, and now a Penguin Canada “Modern Classic.” Lives of the Family is her fourth book. In 2013, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. Ms. Chong’s books will be available at the event and/or through The Book Nook.
The meeting at Perth's Royal Canadian Legion, 26 Beckwith Street E., home of the Hall of Remembrance, is at 7:30pm is co-sponsored by the Perth & District Historical Society and The Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, Perth Chapter.
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