Finding Mr. Wong

Reviewed by Nancy Payne

Posted November 18, 2020

On the surface, this enjoyable book recounts one woman’s warm childhood memories of Wong Dong Wong, her Irish-Canadian grandparents’ Chinese cook and housekeeper. But Susan Crean goes beyond her own recollections of a loving and beloved man to piece together his life outside the walls of Number 13, her grandparents’ home in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill neighbourhood.

Drawing on research she conducted in Toronto and Vancouver, including within both cities’ Chinatowns, and in Wong’s home village of Shui Doi, China, Crean imaginatively recreates the parts of his story that she can never fully know. Fortunately, she is well aware that the uncomplicated relationship she enjoyed with Wong was based on an imbalance of power — however congenial — between a Chinese head-tax payer and his Canadian employer.

Crean explores the discrimination Wong and other Chinese bachelors endured, placing it on a continuum of attitudes that deemed English Canadians superior to her Irish immigrant forebears and that directed casual anti-Semitism at her family’s Jewish neighbours. Part homage, part mystery, part memoir, Finding Mr. Wong is a loving look at a life that is no less important a part of our Canadian story for its previously having been rendered invisible.

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This article originally appeared in the December 2020-January 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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