Wong Quai Lun Project Statement

Wong Quai Lun (Jim) was born on August 12, 1899. He boarded the Chicago Maru with an older brother and sailed from the Guangdong province to Canada in 1912. Being only 13 years old at the time, he was documented in Victoria, British Columbia on October 4, 1912. Initially, Jim worked as a houseboy in Victoria and in the Kootenays. In the 1930s, he relocated to Turner Valley, and lived in Royalties in the 1940s.

When Jim first arrived in Canada, the Chinese Immigration Act was in full swing so he paid a $500 head tax. Part of his life in Canada was very isolated as described by a salesman who often did business with Jim. “I feel quite sympathetic to him, the situation for him seemed lonely, and to me very barren when his meal was only rice” (James Marshall, 1991). From his arrival in Canada, Jim did not return to China until 1955 when he travelled to Hong Kong to meet his bride-to-be (Leong Yuk Kim) for the first time. They were married during that visit and subsequently settled together in Longview, Alberta. Jim was 54 years old by the time they were married, and Yuk Kim was 21. Upon arrival, she soon became the main operator of the family business.

Jim moved his home from Royalties to Longview just before he brought Yuk Kim to Canada, and it was where the family remained for the next five decades. Making a living for Chinese migrants was very difficult; they threw nothing away and reused whatever they could. Jim ran Barney’s Cafe out of his home which also became a place where he and Yuk Kim traded with the indigenous community. The trade was always based on good will, and Jim often helped customers by accepting collaterals when necessary. Jim’s son, Calvin, recalls his dad labeling and placing the collaterals (rifles being a typical item) in one corner of their home awaiting the customers’ return. Most of the time, they did.

Having integrated well in Longview, Barney’s Cafe became an icon in the community, and Calvin remembers many happy memories growing up in the small town. From Calvin’s perspective, “I think our family was a strong bridge between the indigenous people and the local community. Relationships were generally pretty strong, through trade, business or trying to use their culture and community as best we could. I think they felt a lot more comfortable in our place than in other local businesses and mom and dad leveraged whatever they could offer, whether it was getting wild meat or opening the restaurant [during] late hours to serve their community when they passed through. One fellow did a lot of carpentry work for us, building a couple additions. I remember some of the elders would sit in front of our place on the grass and work on their beadwork in the summertime. So yes, there was a beneficial symbiotic relationship” (Calvin Wong, 2021). Aside from being a cafe and a confectionery, Barney’s Cafe was also a sojourn, a pawn shop, even a social hub for the community.

Since becoming married, Jim never returned to China again. He died suddenly in his home on February 13, 1983. Yuk Kim remained in Longview for another ten years before moving to Chinatown in Calgary. For years thereafter, she was an active member in the community and became very popular among friends. Calvin recounts, “We could hardly walk a block without having to stop to chat with someone she knew”. As suddenly as Jim, Yuk Kim passed away in 2020.