Chun (née Lau) Yee

“Goodbye Mom”

In Hong Kong, Chun Lau’s mother, determined to marry off her daughter to a man in North America, ignored for years the many suitors that came calling. Then, in 1962, she told her 26-year-old daughter that she had found her a husband in Canada.

Chun’s future husband, 27-year-old Mun Fei (Henry) Yee, had left China for Canada a decade earlier. He lived in Altona, Manitoba, where he worked at Harry’s Café, his grandfather’s café and grocery store. Henry ran away to Ottawa when he learned that his younger sister, Lai Sim (Betty) Leung, was married and living there. Their impoverished parents had sold her when she was three years old.

Young Henry Yee, circa. early 1950s. (Courtesy of Chun Yee and Linda Lim)

Henry lived with Betty in Ottawa. After some time, she told him, “It’s time you got married.” Henry was nonchalant. “Do you know anybody?”

Betty made contact with Chun’s family. The two families exchanged photographs of the prospective bride and groom.

Henry offered his opinion on Chun’s photograph: “Pretty good.” He told his sister, “Tell her, okay.”

In Hong Kong, Chun examined the photograph of Henry. She spied a nasty scar on his left cheek: “What? What’s that?” As it turned out, Henry’s scar was the result of a car accident; in his teens, Henry had taken his grandfather’s Chevy to go to the beach, and had skidded off a gravel road and hit a tree.

Harry’s Cafe, Altona, Manitoba, where Henry worked for his grandfather, when he first arrived in Canada. Circa. late 1960s. (Courtesy of Chun Yee and Linda Lim)

Upset to be leaving Hong Kong, Chun cried the entire way on the flight to Canada. Four days after she arrived in Ottawa, she and Henry were married at the Chinese Mission at 314 Lisgar Street. Henry, then waiting tables at a Chinese restaurant, would eventually come to work for his sister, Betty, in 1968, when she bought the Capital Café (which she later renamed Ging Sing Restaurant) at 406 Bank Street.

Chun Yee and Henry Yee’s wedding portrait, Ottawa, 1962. (Courtesy of Chun Yee and Linda Lim)

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Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong

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