Nancy (née Fong) Kwan

Nancy Fong

Nancy Fong was 16 when she met her father, Joe Fong, for the first time, in Ottawa in 1951. Joe, whose father was a brother of Shung Joe, one of the original patriarchs in Ottawa, had lived in Canada since 1912, and visited China only briefly. On the last visit, Nancy’s mother had been pregnant with her when Joe fled ahead of the coming war with Japan, back to Canada. “When the war ended, my father made inquiries, and when he got word that we were alive, he prepared to have us immigrate to Canada,” said Nancy. 

Nancy and her mother arrived together and moved into Joe’s house and laundry at 226 Nepean Street. Later, upon closing his laundry, he cultivated bean sprouts in the basement and sold them to Chinese restaurants.

Nancy proved to be an independent-minded teenager, undaunted about taking her father’s car on outings out of town and, without her parents’ permission, going on dates with white boys from school.

Nancy Fong, on Nepean Street (outside a neighbour’s house), Ottawa, circa. early 1950s. (Courtesy of Howard Kwan)

When Nancy was 20, her parents sent her to an aunt in Hong Kong, charging the aunt with finding their daughter a husband.

Nancy, at age 76, recalled the parade of boys to her aunt’s flat. “Every day, someone was coming to recommend a boy for a husband. Ten, sometimes twenty guys. Rich ones, handsome ones. Many wanted to come to Canada.”

Alan Kwan, on a beach in Hong Kong, circa. mid-1950s. (Courtesy of Howard Kwan)

Nancy was matter-of-fact about Alan Kwan: “I chose the most handsome one.” Alan taught weightlifting, could speak English, was a swimmer and gymnast, a good jive dancer, and played the piano and the guitar. In Ottawa, Alan tended bar for several years at the Cathay Restaurant. In 1971, he and Nancy bought a property from an Italian grocer on Somerset Street, and turned it into the Shanghai Restaurant. Featuring a menu of dim sum, it was among the first Asian businesses to open on Somerset Street.

Nancy Kwan and Alan Kwan at the Cathay Restaurant (where he was the bartender), Ottawa, late 1960s. (Courtesy of Howard Kwan)

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Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong



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