Gertrude Chu, one of 13 children, all Canadian-born, of a well-known tobacconist in Vancouver’s Chinatown, was dedicated to her career with the Bank of Montreal. By her early thirties, she had worked her way up from teller, to working in the loan department, and now, to the position of savings supervisor at a branch in Vancouver.
One day in 1962, a friend, Nora Lowe, invited Gertrude, along with a half dozen other “eligible” girls, to a party at her home to meet a friend of her brother’s visiting from Ottawa. Joe Hum, aged 40, was halfway through his annual three-week vacation. In a memoir Joe Hum penned decades later for his son, Peter, he wrote of his foray out west: “My intention was to utilize the three weeks to find a life-mate.”
Joe had good credentials: a well-known name in Ottawa (his brother Thomas was perhaps the most successful and well-off of the entrepreneurs to come out of Ottawa’s Chinese community) and a degree from McGill University. He sold insurance and owned and ran, with a brother-in-law, “31 Restaurant” in Ottawa, located where Bank Street turned into Highway 31. The two co-owners would later remodel and rename it the Marco Polo Tavern and Restaurant, which they operated from 1956 to 1983.
Before Joe’s three-week vacation out west was over, he proposed and he and Gertrude became engaged. A few months later, he returned to Vancouver for the wedding, and to bring Gertrude to Ottawa.
Gertrude was accustomed to blatant discrimination and virulent anti-Chinese sentiment from having grown up in Vancouver, but she felt more welcome in Ottawa. When the Hums first moved into an Ottawa suburb where they were the only Chinese family, Gertrude sensed that one white neighbour was particularly uncomfortable with their presence. One day he accusingly asked a pregnant Gertrude: “How many babies are you going to have?” Gertrude had a quick comeback: “They’re cheaper by the dozen!”
Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong