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Laundry Owner

Despite the name I have gone by, my real Chinese surname is T--. My father was a launderer, but I was trained as a shoe-maker in China. Before I left for Canada in 1910, at age twenty, I married a young woman. It cost me a great deal of money to get here. When I left China men were still wearing braids, or queues. As soon as I got on board to come to Canada, I cut off my queue.

Through a friend's connection, I worked as a railway labourer near Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia. I had to work from six o'clock in the morning until six o'clock in the evening. The supervisor was a white guy and the four workers were all Chinese. My salary was thirty dollars per month, and I worked there for one and a half years.

I then moved to Calgary, where I worked in a laundry; but the salary was lower than before, only twenty dollars per month. There weren't any washing-machines available at that time, and we had to wash clothes by hand.

Calgary was a small city at that time. When I arrived many Chinese there were unemployed. Chinatown was at the same location as today, but there were only a few Chinese restaurants there. Many unemployed Chinese gathered in the basement of the Kim Sang store to eat and sleep. I didn't have any close friends or relatives in Calgary.

After ten years of working in the laundry, I moved here to High River. My partner Mr. W-- and I bought a laundry from Mr. L-- on the other side of town. Two years later we sold out and bought this laundry. Business was better over here because it was close to the hotels and the railway station.

We spent over $1000 to buy this laundry. The price included the land and all the laundry equipment. This has always been called the Wing Chong Laundry. Years ago I had five Chinese people working for me.

My friend and partner, Mr. W--, died thirty years ago. A relative of his took over his share for a while; then, I bought him out and became the sole owner. When my partner was still alive, the laundry business was pretty good: we had two people working for us, each at thirty dollars per month. After he died the business slowed down; since then I've usually worked on my own. Before, I had a horse and wagon for transportation to go to Langdon, Blackie, and Okotoks to collect and deliver laundry.

Around 1920 there were three or four Chinese families in High River, and we all knew each other. A few of those people still live here. Several decades ago about forty Chinese lived in High River, but nowadays there are only about ten of us. The Chinese population has dwindled because most decided their lives would be better spent in the big cities.

There used to be four Chinese laundries, four Chinese restaurants, and a grocery store here. There were at least four or five workers in every store. Today, all the truly Chinese businesses are closed down, so if we want Chinese groceries we have to go to Calgary to get them.

During the Great Depression, lots of Chinese lived in my large combined house and laundry; most of them didn't have jobs. I provided them with food and a place to sleep, and in return they helped me with laundry work. Even though I had a laundry, it was still hard to make a living then. Most Chinese residents of High River planted their own vegetables and went fishing in order to survive during the 1930s.

In 1916 I went back to China for the first time. I've been in Canada for sixty-four years now, and I've gone back to China just four times. The visits were separated by intervals of about four or five years. It was not that expensive to go back to China at that time: the ship fare only cost about ninety dollars. I always sent money back to my wife, who farmed to help support our family.

Reprinted from The Chinese Experience In Canada: Life Stories From the Late 1800s to Today by J. Brian Dawson and Nicholas Ting with permission of the authors.

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