"In the traditional patriarchal family ... the family is most important, not the individual. It's the community. You rise as a group. You look after yourself as a group and that's how you survive."
Above all, the late Lee Duck, patriarch of the Lethbridge, Alberta, Chinese community, traditionalist, Nationalist, village benefactor and a worker on the Canadian Pacific Railway, was pragmatic about his family's future.
So says his grandson, Ron Lee, a high school teacher in Calgary, who has recorded his family's history since his grandfather left China in 1905 to follow the dream of the "Gold Mountain men." Lee Duck, at 20 years old, boarded the Empress of India in Macau for Vancouver, his $500 head tax paid by returning railway workers. On arrival, he visited his family association in Chinatown and landed his first job, greasing the undercarriage of a CPR steam engine, and then traveling with it to destinations across the Rocky Mountains.
During his travels, he set his eyes on Lethbridge in Southern Alberta and opened a dry cleaning business. Lee Duck prospered and traveled back and forth to China, where he married his first wife and started a family. Then he traveled back to Lethbridge and took a second wife, Ron's grandmother, Der Soon Yet, who was part of Chinese Nationalist leader Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's entourage during a visit to Canada "to raise money for the revolution."next page >
"He had four wives. He had three back there and one here," says Ron. "[He was] always hedging his bets, that's what he was doing."
Der Soon Yet gave Lee Duck three boys, then three girls, all of whom, except the last daughter, spent their first two years in Canada before being herded off to China to get an education, returning only as teenagers to work in the dry cleaners. Then their father arranged for them to be married and expand the family business.< previous page