Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre
Museum: Oral History Program
an oral history interview with
President of the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre
Tony Kei-Sang Wong 黄奇生 (1955-). Oral History Interview, 2021.
Master Copy: 8- MP4A Digital Recordings
‘My recording 3’ 4:55
‘My recording 4’ 1:46
‘My recording 5’ 0:54
‘My recording 6’ 1:18
‘My recording 7’ 2:06
‘My recording 8’ 0:09
‘My recording 9’ 1:16
‘My recording 10’ 2:33
Video Recording: None.
This interview was conducted by e-mailing Tony Wong a set of questions. Mr. Wong then recorded his answers to the questions and e-mailed the MP4’s back. This interview was done this way due to COVID-19 restrictions in 2021.
Tony Wong, the president of the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, talks about his experiences from when he first arrived in Canada in 1972. 17 at the time, he reflected on the surprise of how clean and green Calgary was. His shock at being served breakfast cold and struggling with the sudden temperature change in breakfast items that took him some time to get used to. He spoke about first coming to Canada due to the small admittance numbers for the only two Universities in Hong Kong. When he arrived, he knew enough English from his studies in Hong Kong to be considered fluent, but his English improved greatly within a few weeks of living in Canada. His first impressions of Calgary were of cleanliness and an admiration for the green spaces, calling the environment park-like. His first impressions of Chinatown was that the space was not as clean as the rest of downtown and a little rundown. His first impression of Alberta was amazement at the geography and beauty of the mountains. In his chosen story, Mr. Wong recounts visitors arriving from China and their amazement at the clean, non-polluted air, tidy city, and the remarkable amount of greenspace.
Tony Kei-Sang Wong 黄奇生 (1955-) is in 2021 the president of the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre. He moved to Calgary when he was just 17 years old to pursue education and attended the Prairie High School in Three Hills. Once he graduated high school, Mr. Wong pursued a degree at the University of Calgary, graduating in 1978. He has a wife, Denise San Woo, and a son, Ansel Wong, and daughter, Casey Wong.
Interviewed by Jamie Mason, 2021.
Transcribed, edited, and abstract written by Jamie Mason, 2021.
Tony Wong Oral History 01
1. What are your most significant memories from when you first came to Canada? What is a moment that was very memorable to you?
TW: My most significant memory from when I first came to Canada is how orderly and how clean Canada is.
TW: Now, from where I grew up in Hong Kong it is very crowded and, in a way, chaotic. You could imagine that when a place gets crowded everything is more or less chaotic and disorderly, but when I first came to Canada and landed in Calgary I saw that the streets are very clean, and that everything was very orderly.
TW: Between the airport and my friend's home the streets are very clean and there is green space everywhere; it was almost like going into a park.
TW: Those are the most significant memories from when I first came to Canada.
TW: To answer the question, what is a moment that was very memorable to you: I have to say that would be the first breakfast I ever had.
TW: When I checked into my boarding school in Three Hills—I attended boarding school in Three Hills—I lived in the dormitory and ate in the cafeteria.
TW: The moment I stepped into the cafeteria I was in shock.
TW: We lined up to collect our portion of breakfast. I remember every item at breakfast: we get one glass of cold milk, we get one bowl of cereal, what I mean is oatmeal cereal, and then we get two slices of toast and one small dish of canned fruit and these are all the items for breakfast.
TW: Why would I say that is a very memorable moment? Because as I grew up—I came to Canada when I was 17—as I grew up, all the breakfasts I had were served warm or hot.
TW: I would have a bowl of congee, piping hot, or a bowl of noodle soup, or fried rice that my mother would prepare or I would have some steaming hot steam buns.
TW: Everything is hot and I would have hot tea to go with it, but this first breakfast that I had in the boarding school, everything was ice cold and I've never get used to things that are so cold, because the milk was cold, the the oatmeal cereal they served with cold milk, and then the dessert is a canned fruit that is also ice cold.
TW: The only thing that I ate were the two pieces of toast and the kid that sat with me at the same table, he was so happy because: I did not drink my milk, I did not eat my oatmeal cereal, I did not eat my dessert, and he ate what I didn’t.
TW: So, from that time on that kid always stuck with me when I went for breakfast because he can have my portions. Eventually, after a long time, I got used to eating cold food at breakfast but that was one breakfast I would remember for the rest of my life
2. Why did you first come to Canada? TW: I came to Canada to study.
TW: I was 17 when I arrived, I had just finished grade 10 when I was in Hong Kong.
TW: Normally I would continue to finish grade 11 and grade 12 and then try to enter university in Hong Kong, however, at that time back in 1972, to get into university in Hong Kong was extremely difficult, because there were tens of thousands of high school students, but enrollment for the two universities at that time in Hong Kong were very limited.
TW: I would say they would admit maybe 1,000 students each year, so you have to be the very best at your school before you can enter university, and I know I would have very limited or no chance of entering the university of Hong Kong.
TW: So, in order to get a better education; the best choice was to go overseas. So, that is the reason why I came to Canada back in 1972
3. What languages were you fluent in when you first arrived?
TW: My mother tongue is Cantonese, I grew up with it so I'm fluent in Cantonese and I learned English when I was in Hong Kong in school.
TW: So, at that time I can babble in English, I would not say that I’m very fluent in English when I first arrived in Canada, but I could understand it and I could speak, well, not too fluently, but within weeks I was able to speak English fluently after my arrival in Canada.
4. What was Calgary like when you first experienced it? TW: I have to say to me Calgary is like heaven, because it is so clean.
TW: I came on September 4th 1972, so it was the end of summer/the beginning of the fall. Everything I saw was very green.
TW: Calgary was very well taken care of, so between the airport and my friends home everything I saw was like a park-like setting.
TW: There was a lot of green space, the trees were well manicured, and it is like a park everywhere I go and I was not used to seeing so much green and almost every house that I saw would have a very nice and green front yard and backyard so that was my first impression of Calgary.
5. What was your first or most significant experience of a Chinatown like? This can be any Chinatown.
TW: My friend who picked me up from the airport, their family has been very nice to me, and they took me to Chinatown to have dim sum lunch and to me Chinatown at that time was not as nice as the other parts of downtown Calgary.
TW: Downtown Calgary was always very clean, very neat, everything was very orderly, but in 1972 the Chinatown in Calgary was, I would say, less than clean and a bit run down and the buildings were much smaller and lower than the rest of downtown and we went to a restaurant that is called WK and it is located on the second floor and we have to go up a relatively dim and relatively dirty stairs to get to the restaurant so that that was not a very good impression of Chinatown.
TW: Chinatown was relatively backwards compared to the rest of downtown Calgary.
TW: So, I have to say my most significant experience of Chinatown was that it was not as nice as the rest of downtown.
6. What was Calgary’s Chinatown like when you first experienced it?
[Answered in question 5]
7. What were your first impressions of Alberta?
TW: I first landed in Calgary when I first came into Alberta, so my impression of Alberta was very nice.
TW: My friend's family took me around so, besides Calgary downtown, we also toured the university, and they also took me to Banff so I saw the spectacular Rocky mountains and when I was in high school I learned about geography and when I saw the Rockies that was really stunning.
TW: When I went to the Rockies I saw many of the features that I learned in geography: like the foldings and faultings, the gigantic mountains, the U-shaped valleys, the snow covered peaks, the glaciers.
TW: So, that was stunning and I have to say Alberta is really spectacular
8. What is one story you like to tell? This can be anything.
TW: Since I came to Calgary I have received numerous visitors from Hong Kong, China, and other parts of the world and I have witnessed many of my friends first impression of Calgary and of Alberta, and one thing that repeats itself is that many of my friends they told me, they said: “I cannot believe how beautiful Calgary is” they “cannot believe how beautiful Alberta is.”
TW: I have a friend that came from China and as soon as he stepped off the plane I took him to my car in the parking lot, he looked up at the sky and stood there and said: “Mr. Wong I have not seen a sky so clear, so blue, for over 20 years” and that is his words.
TW: I have another friend—a high school classmate from Hong Kong—when I was driving him from the airport to my home he just kept asking me: “Tony, is this a park?”
TW: I said “no, no just this is just part of the side of the highway” and then we entered into another district, another neighborhood, and he looked around and said: “How come there are so many trees and flowers? Is this a park?”
TW: I said, “no, this is just a regular neighborhood” and he just kept repeating the same question, because Calgary is so beautiful everywhere we go it is a park-like setting.
TW: This is the one story I like to tell about how beautiful Calgary is.
[End of Interview]