Robert Hum’s father, Chong Sam Hum, was a twin. In 1913, his twin left China for Peru and he himself chose to go to Canada, where he paid the head tax upon entry, and found work in canneries in British Columbia. In 1922, he returned to China to marry and asked his new wife to accompany him back to Canada. However, on account of her elderly mother, she postponed plans to join him abroad. Pregnant when Chong Sam left for Canada, she later gave birth to a son.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923 thwarted the couple’s plans to unite in Canada. Chong Sam moved east, working for a time in Belleville and Pembroke, before settling in Ottawa. After a 10-year absence from his wife in China, he returned to visit in 1932, when he met his 10-year old son for the first time. His wife’s pregnancy during that visit ended in a miscarriage. He visited China a second time in 1937. Yet again, when he left for Canada, his wife was pregnant. She gave birth to their second son, Robert.
In 1947, Chong Sam wrapped up his affairs in Canada. He sold his Sun Café on Bank Street and left for home. Back in the village, he and 9-year old Robert met for the first time. With his savings from Canada, Chong Sam built a three-storey house. In 1949, in the face of the Communist campaign to arrest landowners, he decided to flee for Canada. “When you get back there, get us over,” his wife told him. “There’s no way we can live here.”
Once back in Canada, Chong Sam registered to sponsor his wife and children with Canadian immigration. In 1949, his family took refuge in Hong Kong and by the middle of 1951, all three had arrived in Canada. Robert would enter Canada under his own name; his brother, then aged 28, came in under the name of the child his mother had miscarried eighteen years before.
By the time of his family’s arrival, Chong Sam had opened the Ding Ho Café (in partnership with Kwong Hum and later, Tom (Yee) Hum) and the Ho Ho Café (with William Poy and Thomas Hum), two of five Chinese-owned cafés then on Albert Street.
When his father offered him the Ding Ho café, Robert, then in Grade 12, said he didn’t want to go into the business, that it was an “eight-days-a-week” business. Robert would go on to earn his doctorate in physics. He would credit his interest in academic studies to his scholarly mother, who had been a respected high school teacher in China. All who met her in Ottawa’s Chinese community were impressed with her cultured mind and her ability in public speaking.
Robert Hum: “They never said no”
Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong