In 1897, Mong Hum became the first Chinese in the city to become a naturalized Canadian. In 1910, he provided the money for his younger brother, Kwong to follow him to Canada, and in 1914, the two brothers opened the Wing On & Company grocery on the ground floor at 219 Albert Street. Mong subsequently brought his son, Wing Kwong and his wife (who may have been the first Chinese woman to arrive in Ottawa) to Canada. Although she had begun to try to adapt here by teaching herself English, he sent her back to China, deciding that she’d have an easier life there than in Canada.
Together with Shung Joe, Sue Wong, the Hum brothers established a Chinese section at Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery, and in 1925, the brothers made a first purchase of 40 lots at five dollars each.
Within a few years, the elder Hum decided to go home to China for good, planning to invest the nest egg he’d saved abroad in a fertilizer factory there. As a parting gift for his brother, who, because of exclusion, had to endure separation from his wife, Fong See, he left his son, Wing Kwong. The younger brother died in 1929. His family arranged for his body to be shipped home to China—a practice only the well-off could afford.
Marion Hum: “The counter is big, but the space is small”
On a visit home to China, Wing married. After the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, he sponsored three family members to come to Canada: his widowed mother, Fong See, his wife and their teenaged son, Tom. In 1951, the family’s first home was a room off the Wing On grocery. By then, the store had moved from the first floor to the second floor. In 1949, the ground floor was taken over by the new Ding Ho restaurant.
In the late 1950s, Tom opened the Lucky Key restaurant on Carling Avenue, opposite the Westgate Shopping Centre, recently opened as the city’s first shopping centre. In 1957, Tom married Marion Ha in Hong Kong. Marion, a journalist in Hong Kong, was from a family of eleven children. Her father’s job as a banker for a foreign company had allowed her family to live sheltered from the Sino-Japanese war in the French concession area of Canton. At war’s end, they fled to Hong Kong.
In Ottawa, Tom and Marion raised a fourth generation. As the only Chinese children in their neighbourhood, other children hurled racial epithets at them. Yet, at the same time, some Jewish children in the neighbourhood told the Hum children that they were glad they moved in, as they could now band together to protect against others who’d been bullying them as well.