Changemakers of Chinese Ancestry

In this lesson, students will focus on the contributions of successful Canadians of Chinese ancestry, analyze the challenges that they have overcome, and celebrate their successes.
Created by Flora Fung Governor General's History Awards Winner 2011 recipient of the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching Posted August 24, 2023

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will focus on the contributions of successful Canadians of Chinese ancestry and analyze the challenges that they have overcome and celebrate their successes. Students will use the “Beyond Gold Mountain” issue of Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids as a launching point into primary sources before exploring an individual of their choosing.

Historical Thinking Concept(s)

  • Use primary source evidence
  • Take historical perspectives

Learning Outcomes

Students will…
  • analyze primary sources to construct meaning and knowledge.
  • identify and share knowledge and understanding of an important Canadian of Chinese ancestry.
  • share and teach the challenges and successes of important Canadians of Chinese ancestry and their impact on Canada today.

Background Information

Gretta Jean Wong Grant was the first woman of Chinese descent to become qualified as a lawyer in Canada.

Her father, Lem Wong, was born in 1881 near Canton (now Guangzhou) in Southern China. He immigrated to Vancouver in 1896, paying a $50 head tax to do so. With so few Chinese women in Canada at this time, he soon returned to China to seek a wife and married Toye Chin. Restrictions placed on Chinese men at this time meant that Lem Wong had to quickly return to Canada, while his new wife stayed behind in China. There, she gave birth to the couple’s first child in 1907. The family reunited when Toye and their son were finally able to afford to move to Canada in 1911.  They settled in London, Ontario, where Lem opened a restaurant. “Wong’s Cafe” was quickly established as an elegant and popular place for the city’s professional class.

Gretta was born in 1921 — the seventh of eight children. She and her siblings were active community members, attending church and participating in a variety of sports. Their father placed great emphasis on the role of education and most of the children eventually received a university degree. However, in the era of economic depression, it was a struggle for the family to cover all of the required tuition fees.

When Gretta decided to enter law, a family friend helped her secure an articling position at a law firm in Toronto. There, Gretta experienced more racial discrimination than she was used to in the smaller city of London. For example, she had trouble renting an apartment because of her Chinese ancestry. At the law firm, Gretta and the other female students experienced different treatment than their male counterparts — being asked to run errands, do simple research and other administrative tasks, and not being invited to attend court hearings. The women formed a club called the Osgoode Women’s Legal Society (OWLS) and protested some of the unfair practices they experienced, with great success.

Gretta was called to the bar in 1946. She married and raised a family, while maintaining an active and impactful legal career.

Resources Required/Teacher Prep

Primary Sources Used

  • Image 9 — Gretta Wong Grant
  • Excerpt from interview with Gretta Wong Grant

Lesson Activity

  • Teacher shows the primary source Image 9 – Gretta Wong Grant and has students brainstorm and discuss who she is and why she might be important — drawing attention to the clothes in the image.
  • Teacher then shares the excerpt from the interview with Gretta Wong Grant. Students can work in small groups to decipher the interview and try to infer more about Gretta’s story, circling or highlighting key phrases.
  • Students come together to share what they think about Gretta Wong Grant, using evidence to support their statements.
  • Teacher can correct or add to the students’ answers, using the background information provided above.
  • The teacher can prompt further discussion, asking students to infer what kind of obstacles Gretta Jean Wong Grant may have faced as a Chinese Canadian woman during this time period.
  • Have students look at the images on pages 10-11 of “Beyond Gold Mountain,” and ask if they recognize anyone on those two pages.
  • After reading, have students share with a partner one accomplishment and one challenge that the individuals listed in this article had.
  • Have students research an important Canadian of Chinese ancestry — a list has been provided below (but the teacher can always research more).
  • Students can use Worksheet 4.1 as a planner to begin their research.
  • Students will present their research by creating either an infographic or a slide presentation. Some things to include are biographical information, context about the time period, key contributions, challenges faced, interesting facts, as well as a bibliography.
  • Students can present their presentation or infographic to the class or share in a gallery walk.
  • Infographics can also be saved to share with the school in May during Asian Heritage Month.

Possible Individuals

  • Sergeant John Ko Bong (son of G.B. Simon, jeweller, Second World War veteran and activist for franchise, served with Douglas Jung)
  • Private Frederick Lee (First World War casualty)
  • Chinese Labour Corps
  • Kew Dock Yip (first male lawyer of Chinese ancestry in Canada)
  • Dr. Victoria Chung, Dr. Ross Jung, and Dr. Wing Yuen Wong (first physicians of Chinese ancestry in Canada)
  • Dart Lim Lee, Chin Brothers (first pharmacists of Chinese ancestry in Canada)
  • Dr. Rachel Wang (current Canadian astronomer)
  • Dr. Hin Lew (first physicist of Chinese ancestry in Canada)
  • Elder Larry Grant (see Images 20a/b)
  • William, Albert, and George Chin (hockey stars, see Image 28)

Lesson Alternatives/Accommodations

  • Teacher can also have students create a Heritage Minute or a Walk of Fame using the same individuals and have students create a display to share with the rest of the school.
  • Instead of people, the teacher could also have students create a presentation/infographic about key ways Chinese culture has influenced modern society. Teacher could group/share contributions based on types of history such as political, technological, and economic contributions.

Possible Extension Activities

  • Use as a display during Asian Heritage Month in May

Possible Assessment

  • Presentation/infographic can be used as a formative or summative evaluation
Gretta Wong Grant,” Road to Justice.

Constance Blackhouse, “Gretta Wong Grant: Canada’s First Chinese-Canadian Female Lawyer,” 1996, 15, Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice.

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