Wong Dong Wong and Captain John Crean
When I thought about exploring the idea of Toronto, I thought of my own ties to the city. And to two Torontonians whose faraway lives always fascinated me. Connected by blood to one, and by affection to the other, I have often contemplated the mystery of their lives, never fully aware of how little I knew about either until I began piecing their stories together.
They came to Canada from opposite sides of the world. One came as a small child with parents and siblings; the other arrived alone, a mere 16 years old. Their prospects in life were utterly different, but there are similarities in the way their lives unfolded. For both left hardship in the old country, and in Canada acquired enough education and independence to secure a steady living. The price was life-long bachelorhood, by force of circumstance in the first case, and by force of Canadian immigration law in the second.
The first was an Irish uncle whose family settled in Toronto in 1865 when his father retired from the British Army after 24 years of service as a military tailor in outposts from Gibraltar to Jamaica to Quebec City. Of the four sons, Great Uncle John was the only one to turn to soldiering. He saw combat against the Métis in the Northwest in 1885 and later in West Africa in the Ashanti Campaigns of the 1890s. He died of dysentery in 1907 at the age of 49.
The second was born in Guangdong China in 1895, and emigrated to Canada in 1911. He lived in Vancouver for several years before migrating to Toronto where he began working as a domestic cook. He eventually found employment with my grandparents and stayed there 37 years. Upon retiring in 1965 he moved to Chinatown, and became a Canadian citizen the following year. He died of stomach cancer in 1970.
Both men spent their formative years in Toronto and both died here. Their bones lie in the same cemetery and between them they spent over 100 years in the city. Their travels covered four continents, but this is where they rest. Neither ever returned to the land of his birth. Neither had children.