Harry Fong Johnston and his wife, Mabel and their 4 daughters lived in Perth, Ontario, above his restaurant, “Harry’s Café.” Only Mary, the eldest, who was born in China, had any ability in the Chinese language or, for that matter, memory of or fondness for things Chinese, including Chinese food. Doris, Lillian and Louise, all born in Perth, preferred the sandwiches, hamburgers, french fries and sundaes on offer at the family’s café.
Ever anxious about his daughters losing a sense of their Chinese heritage, Harry remained firm in his goal to take the family back to China for good. So when the girls asked for say, a bicycle, or anything sizeable or expensive, he would refuse. His explanation was always the same: “We’ll be going back to China.”
In 1937, when frightful news came of the Japanese invasion of China, a despairing Harry told his daughters, then ranging in age from 12 to 23, that the family’s plans to go back to China were on hold. Doris, at age 89 the last surviving member of her immediate family, recalled how she and her sisters reacted to their father’s news: “We girls jumped up and down, we were so happy; we wanted to stay in Canada.”
Of Harry and Mabel’s family, only Mary would again stand on Chinese soil. In the late 1940s, after the end of the Second World War, she accompanied her husband, an American pilot, Dan Wong, when he returned to China to fight on the side of the Kuomintang against the Communists. His plane was shot down, and his body was never found. Mary would marry again, in China, but the marriage did not last. She returned to Canada, raising 2 sons on her own.
Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong