Charlie's Journey

Saskatchewan Archives Board, S-C21.  Quan, Charlie
Excerpt of a Transcript of a Tape Recorded Interview with Mr. Charlie Quan, Toronto, ON
Interview conducted by A.M. Nicholson, August 16, 1964

CQ:
… I was born in a village in the province of Kwangtung in the southern part of China.  My father won a military title from the government through the examination.  Because of his good nature and his title he gained respect from the people in our village.  He received no pay from the country...  Also [he operated] a store in order to support my family, including my mother, two brothers and four sisters….Living with him in the store the accommodation was fine.  I had a big piggy bank with a lot of coins but never spent one of them.  I began to realize my father’s situation.  At my age of 13, after seven years of schooling, I had my father’s consent to leave home for Singapore with the ambition to help my father.  I worked in a store.  My wages was four dollars a month for the first year.  Every year [I]  raised two dollars a month for the next three years and one dollar more for a month, another next three years.  During those sevens years I sent money to my father and still saved some to go home….

AN:
….It occurs to me that going from China to Singapore when one was 13 was a very courageous thing to do, particularly when the motive was to help your parents [and] the other members of the family at home.  Would you say something about the conditions in China and also about your work and your general life in Singapore.

CQ:
The conditions in China were difficult.  There were too many people in a village and I was anxious to help my parents.  In Singapore I worked in a Chinese drugstore. 

AN:
Earlier, Charlie, you mentioned that in your first year in Singapore you earned $48, the second year $72, $96 the third, $108 the next year, $120, $132, and by the time you were [leaving] there you were earning the magnificent amount of $144.  Would you remember how much you were able to send home to your father in those days?

CQ:
I remember I sent $10 the first year and $40 the second year.  The third year my father had special needs so my employer in Singapore gave me an advance on my future earnings so that I could send home $200…

I returned from Singapore and got married.  Then I went to Hong Kong.  On arriving, with the help of two ladies, I managed to get by and found a job after.  Three years were spent in Hong Kong.

AN:
… What were you doing [in Hong Kong]?

CQ:
I was a waiter in the Astor House for three years.

AN:
What sort of wages would you be receiving at that time?

CQ:
Wages would be about $15 a month.

AN:
And how often were you able to get back to the Village while you were there?

CQ:
About three times.

AN:
When was your son born, Charlie?

CQ:
1912 when I was in Hong Kong; got home for a visit after I heard he was born.

AN:
And when did you come to Canada?

CQ:
I left China on June 13, 1913, arriving in Victoria in July.  [Note:  Charlie was 25 at this time.]

AN:
Did you have to pay a head tax in those days?

CQ:
Yes.  Five hundred dollars.

AN:
And how much was the boat ticket, do you remember?

CQ:
About two hundred dollars.

AN:
And how did you manage to raise the $500 head tax and the $200 ticket?

CQ:
My father sold a piece of land.

AN:
What work did you first do when you came to Canada, Charlie?

CQ:
I washed dishes in Victoria, picked potatoes in Vancouver for about three months.

AN:
How did you happen to come to Saskatchewan?

CQ:
My cousin who owned a restaurant in Canada wanted me to become his partner.

AN:
And where else did you live in Saskatchewan?

CQ:
I was also in Cadillac and in Consul before returning to China on a holiday.

AN:
In what year would this be that you made your first trip back to China?

CQ:
I was on the ocean on November 11, 1918, the day World War 1 ended.

AN:
Had you been able to save enough money to make the trip back home by that time?

CQ:
Yes.  Conditions were good in Saskatchewan these years, with so many immigrants coming.

AN:
How long did you stay in China when you went over?

CQ:
I stayed one year.  When my daughter was born.

AN:
How old would your son be at that time?

CQ:
He would be seven and had started his school.

AN:
When you returned to Canada, where did you settle after this visit?

CQ:
I went to Vanguard for … two years and then I went back to China for my second visit … [in] 1924.  And I stayed for two years which was the limit then…. Canadian immigration would not permit me to remain home more than two years.  So the [youngest baby boy] was born shortly after I returned to Canada.  Although he lived to be 14 I never saw him.  The depression and drought set in and I never got back to China during the time of the Japanese war.  My wife and our children moved to the city.  He became sick and we lost him.

AN:
When you returned to Canada, where were you prior to moving to Somme?

CQ:
I was in partnership at Hazenmore, Willow Bunch, Arcola.

AN:
In what year did you go to Somme?

CQ:
In moved there in the summer of 1930.

AN:
How did you happen to go so far north?

CQ:
People were going north to homestead in the bush country.  Some of my friends said there was need of a café at Somme.

AN:
How large an establishment did you have at Somme?

CQ:
I was all alone.  I baked pies, cakes, and made the ice cream in summer, washed the dishes and waited on the tables….

For 30 years in the restaurant business I was around Aneroid, Cadillac, Consul, Vanguard, Hazenmore, Willow Bunch, Arcola, Somme, and Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, and Toronto, Ontario.  The longest period was spent in Somme.  Somme was a new town surrounded by plenty of bush inhabited by only a handful of people, and business was in general poor.  I had to stay there for 10 years before I had a chance to go out.  I remember pretty well that I sold only a piece of pie one day at noon, and a chocolate bar for a five cent piece the next day at 10:00 in the evening, just before closing time.  Bread and potatoes were my only food, hard wood my bed, and rain and snow my drinking water.  In very cold days the water in the rear part of my store froze.  I slept beside a wood burning stove in the front.  I did not care how much of the hardships, I only cared for the living on my family in China….