Gordon Quan will lay a wreath this weekend to remember how lucky he is to be alive.
The Chinese-Canadian Second World War veteran celebrated his 86th birthday this year, alongside his military cohort and best friend Andrew Wong, 87. Every year, the gentlemen maintain their duty to never forget those who fought with less fortune — and they hope all Victorians will do the same.
“It is an important day to me to remember how lucky I am, but mostly to remember the people, and it matters who they are; those who sacrificed everything for our country,” says Quan. “That’s what’s important.”
As Monday reported last year in a special “Remember Us” feature, the two men fought in the 1940s for a country that wasn’t prepared to support them. “When we were young, there was still discrimination. We weren’t allowed to go to the same schools or swim in the same public pools,” says Wong. “It was no surprise that we weren’t allowed to fight for Canada. They didn’t want us; they didn’t trust us.”
Still, the two dedicated Canadians persisted and Wong signed up to join the air cadets at age 16, then the merchant navy as soon as he was out of high school. Quan volunteered to go overseas, but was first drafted into the British army — as were many Chinese Canadians — before being accepted into the Canadian infantry division. Their moves paved the way for a Canadian landscape that would eventually recognize Chinese Canadians as citizens, and allow them to vote.
Since 1957, Wong’s Victoria Chinatown Lions Club has played a leading role in organizing Remembrance Day services for veterans in the city. This year will be the first that Wong will have to miss the downtown cenotaph ceremony and special veterans’ dinner due to medical complications. Quan, however, will be present with the Royal Canadian Legion at Saanich’s wreath-laying ceremony.
“What it boils down to, is that we are just not young anymore,” says Wong. “Many of us are still participating in the services, just not physically. We still send our money in to the poppy fund, and we still like to see everyone come out.”
To Gordon Moore, dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion, community support means more than many people are aware of.
“Remembrance Day should not only be reserved to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It should also be a practical remembrance of the living … those who served who are in need of a helping hand,” Moore says. “Members of the Royal Canadian Legion are, as one of their core responsibilities, the guardians of remembrance.”
The Poppy Campaign, organized by the Legion every Remembrance Day, funds veterans and their families who are in need of financial assistance. Public donations sponsor medical equipment, bursaries for students, support services such as meals-on-wheels and drop-in centres and help with basic residential repairs.
For those who don’t carry change for the plastic flowers, the Legion now offers the ultimate in remembrance convenience: donors can text message “POPPY” to 20222 to donate $5 to the campaign and veteran programs.
“It was always a good day for us,” says Wong of Remembrance Day. “We like to invite all the veterans out and chit chat over things … and they would even take us out for breakfast, then dinner.” M
Remember on Nov. 11:- Victoria Remembrance Day Ceremony: 10:15am at the Cenotaph on legislature grounds (614 Government).
- Saanich Remembrance Day Ceremony: 10:30am-2:30pm at the Cenotaph in front of Saanich Municipal Hall (770 Vernon).
- Pioneer Square Commemorative Ceremony: 10:30am at memorial in Pioneer Square (Quadra and Meares).
- Remembering Peace: the Spanish Civil War and the White Poppy: 10:45am at the memorial near the intersection of Menzies and Belleville.
- Veterans’ Cemetery Remembrance Tour with John Azar: 2pm at the Veterans' Cemetery (1200 Colville). Non-members $5.
See full list at Veterans Affairs Canada: veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/veterans-week/events.