top of page

Chinese-Canadian and Indigenous births at Rock Creek

Updated: Mar 26

Between 1872 and 1923, at least 12 Chinese Canadian births occurred at Rock Creek. This was noteworthy for a few reasons. First, there was perhaps only one other such birth elsewhere in the Boundary during that time. Most of these births preceded the first Chinese Canadian births in West Kootenay (two in Nelson and five in Kaslo during the same period). But even more intriguing: all 12 people were actually of mixed ancestry, part Chinese and part Indigenous.

Rock Creek is seen in 1860, during its gold rush. The building at centre has a sign on the roof that says “Restaurant.” (Library of Congress)

I’ve enumerated these births below, which were partly the result of the Rock Creek gold rush of 1858 that saw many Chinese placer miners work the gravel bars in search of fortune. Although the rush faded within a few years, Rock Creek had a Chinese presence for decades afterward.

Nine of the 12 births were within the same extended family, while the remaining three were related to each other, but not to the other nine. The family trees are complicated, but I’ll try to sort them out.

Lan Chung (aka Quan Lun Young, Mattie Gunn)

The first birth is also one of the most interesting and was discussed in a fascinating piece historian Jean Barman wrote in 2013 for BC Studies about marriages between Chinese men and Indigenous women in early BC.

While I won’t repeat everything Barman wrote (you can find it here), I do want to highlight an extraordinary document she drew upon: the delayed birth registration of Lan Chung, born at Rock Creek on Aug. 27, 1872 to Chung Moon (aka Jung Moon, Ghung Moon, Joe Moon, and Joe Gunn) and a Sinixt woman known only as Emily. Lan had three siblings, at least two of whom were born at Rock Creek.

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 required all native-born Chinese to register with federal authorities. According to a list held by Library and Archives Canada, Lan was the fifth Chinese Canadian born in BC.

At age 40, she sought a birth certificate. By then married with seven children and living on Vancouver Island, she filed an affidavit that provided a précis of her life. The partly typewritten, partly handwritten document was microfilmed along with her birth registration and I’ve transcribed it below. The “Ah” in Ah Lan is an honorific, like Miss or Mrs., not part of her name.

I, Ah Lan, of Carey Road, Saanich Municipality, British Columbia do solemnly declare
That I am the daughter of Chung Moon and his wife Emily, an Indian woman of Rock Creek, British Columbia. My birthday is the 27th day of the month. I was born at Rock Creek aforesaid in August 1872 and was brought up by my said father and mother at Rock Creek aforesaid until my mother died there when I was ten. My father and I lived at Rock Creek aforesaid until I was 15. My father was a gold miner and farmer and we lived in our own house there.
When I was 15 my father and I came down to New Westminster and lived there a year.
Then we came together to Victoria and lived in a house on Store Street.
When I was 17 I married Leng Tung Hei, who worked in a sawmill. We afterwards moved to Saanich Road, and cultivated land as market gardeners. Four years ago my husband bought land on Carey Road and we have lived together there ever since. We have seven children, four boys and three girls, all of whose births are registered except our little girl Ah Oy.
My father two years after I was married went to China. I have never seen him since but received a letter from a cousin there saying that he was dead about a year after he left Victoria.
There was no doctor where we lived at Rock Creek. The accoucher and nurse at my birth was an Indian woman. I knew the Indian woman and she and my mother told me so, but I do not know the name of this Indian woman but when we lived in New Westminster I heard she was dead.
And I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath and by virtue of the Canada Evidence Act.
Ah Lan
Her mark
Declared before me this 13th day of March 1913 the same having been read over and explained and interpreted from English into Chinese by Ma Sue of 529 Cormorant Street, Victoria, Chinese merchant of the firm of Quon On to her when she appeared to perfectly understand the same.
E. Harrison
Notary Public in and for the Province of British Columbia

The birth registration itself read as follows:

Date of birth: August 27th, 1872
Place of birth: Rock Creek
Lan Chung, date unknown (Courtesy Wes Woo)
Sex of child: Female
Name of child: Ah Lan
Name and surname of father: Chung Moon who was called by English people Joe
Name and maiden name of mother: Emily an Indian woman
Residence and rank of profession or father: Goldminer and farmer
Name of medical attendant or accouter and nurse: No doctor – nurse an Indian woman name unknown
Reason father of child does not report the birth: The father and mother of Ah Lan died many years ago
Dated at Victoria this 13th day of March 1913
Address of informant: Carey Road, Saanich Municpality, BC

Barman determined Lan’s husband, Leng Tung Hai, came to BC around 1873. He was also known as Tommy Till Young. Neither Lan’s marriage nor her mother’s death appear to have been registered, so we don’t have exact dates. However, as noted in her affidavit, the births of her children were registered.

The four I have been able to find are Yan Shu Leng, born June 1, 1891 at Lake District, although not registered until Sept. 11, 1908; Yung Gue Leng, born June 4, 1894 at Lake District; Yet Shu Leng, born Feb. 1, 1898, also at Lake District; and Yung Tai Leng, born May 10, 1902, place unknown. (Birth registrations from after 1903 will not be public until after 2023.)

I can’t find the family on the 1901, 1911, or 1921 census at a glance, nor in the civic directories (although the street directory for 1914 lists “Chinese” on the east side of Carey Road, near the intersection with Cadillac, without giving specific names).

Tat, Oy, and Effie Young, 1910. (Courtesy Wes Woo and Allan Wong)

A family tree prepared in 2017 by cousins David Hay and Wes Woo says Lan’s given Chinese name was Quan Lun Young, but her English name was Mattie Gunn. Upon her first marriage she became Mattie Tommy Till. Upon her second marriage to Quon Yok Young (?-1945), she became Mattie Young. The family tree lists five of her children as Effie (1892-1981), George (1896-1962), Tat (1904-?), Wing Hay (1906-62), and Oy (1909-?). Wes says there was another son as well, Jimmy. I am not sure what happened to the seventh child.

Wing Hay Young, who was born in Port Alberni, earned fame as an amateur boxer and as a soldier. He won the lightweight boxing championship of the Canadian Army. During World War II, he captured a dozen German soldiers single-handedly and without a fight.

Lun died in 1951. At least one and probably two of her three siblings were also born in Rock Creek, as explained below.

Suzette Chung (aka Mary Elizabeth Suzzette, Chung Shee Suzette)

The 1923 list referred to above shows Suzette Chung was born at Rock Creek on May 20, 1884. Her death registration, however, gives her birthdate as July 20, 1882 and the place as Washington state. The birth was not registered in BC or Washington.

Suzette (also known as Susette, Mary Elizabeth Suzzette, and Chung Shee Suzette) was another of Chung and Emily Moon’s children. Suzette married Yok Chew Wong in 1904 or earlier, place unknown. They had 12 children: Ada, Maude, Sing, Ida, May, Alice, Rose, Peter, George, Charlie, David, and Verna.

Yok Chew Wong and Suzette Wong, date unknown. (Courtesy Wes Woo)

They show up on the 1921 census living on Cadillac Avenue in Saanich. Chew was then 47 while Suzette was 39. Their nine children ranged in age from six months to 17 years. Suzette’s birthplace was erroneously given as the US. Chew was listed as a farmer, Maude as a housemaid, and the other children were in school.

Suzette Wong died on March 24, 1954 in Victoria, age 71. Her last address was 923 Caledonia St. She was a widow. Her father’s name was given on the death registration as Jung; her mother’s name was not given, but her son Peter, who filled out the registration, indicated incorrectly that both her parents were born in China. She was interred in Royal Oak Burial Park.

One of Suzette’s grandchildren is longtime Victoria city councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe. Wes Woo, another grandchild, worked for five years as a pharmacist at Zellers in Trail. It was only in 2003 that he learned from cousins that his grandmother was born in Rock Creek. “Previous to that the information was hidden by our parents from us,” he says. “It was forbidden to even acknowledge we were of mixed ethnicity.”

Wes has a copy of Suzette’s application for a birth certificate, which gives her birthplace as Rock Creek and birth year as 1884. One source suggests Suzette had three younger sisters, but the family tree indicates she was second eldest of four.

William and Christine Gunn

The family tree shows Chung and Emily Moon had two other children, William and Christine. William was the eldest, born either Sept. 19, 1869 in Canada (per his death registration) or 1870 in Washington state (per the 1900 US census). If it was Canada, it was likely at Rock Creek, making him the first person of mixed Chinese-Canadian and Indigenous ancestry born there. However, the birth was not registered in BC.

William married Katherine Adoph, a Sinixt woman, and they lived in Bossburg and Danville, Wash. They had two children, Agnes and Peter. William died in Yakima, Wash., in 1955.

Christine, meanwhile, was born in 1883, probably at Rock Creek. Her birth was not registered either. Their mother died reportedly when sister Lan was 10, which would have been no later than August 1883. Therefore it is quite possible that Emily Moon died giving birth to Christine or shortly afterward.

Christine married Charles North, date and place unknown. I don’t know if they had any children. She appears on the census for the Colville Reservation from at least 1914-34 as Christine Ah Mahn North. She died in 1963.

Chung/Moon/Gunn family tree, compiled in 2017 by David Hay and Wes Woo.

Lily Lum, Peter Lum, James Lum

The fourth Chinese-Canadian born at Rock Creek was Lily Lum, who became Lily Ban Quan (also known as Lillian Martha Ban Quan). Her birthdate was either June 27, 1889 (according to her death registration) or June 27, 1891 (according to the 1923 list mentioned above).

Barman wrote about the family in her BC Studies story, as did Naomi Miller in the Spring 1988 edition of the British Columbia Historical News, and the book Fort Steele: Gold Rush to Boom Town.

Lily’s father, Chin Lum Kee, was born in Canton in 1846 and went to San Francisco as a young man, then walked more than a thousand miles north to join the Fraser River gold rush. He carried mail and ran a store. At age 25, he married a Stó:lo woman, Lucy Mary Williams Hope (Squeetlewood), who was then 16 or younger.

For a while Lum Kee freighted goods between Hope and Rock Creek over the Dewdney Trail. He and Lucy settled in Rock Creek, where they opened a store. The first issue of the Fairview Advance, dated April 26, 1894, contained an ad for the store as well as another operated by a Mr. Kee:

There were seven Lum children: Richard Sylvester (Dick), Margaret (Maggie), Caroline Louise, George, Lillian Martha, Peter Charles, and James (Jimmy). The first four were born in Hope: Dick on June 15, 1877 (also reported as June 14 and 16, 1878); Maggie in 1879; Caroline on Jan. 7, 1882; and George about 1884.

However, the only one who appeared on the 1923 list besides Lily was Peter, born at Rock Creek in 1897 or 1898. An online family tree says Jimmy was born at Rock Creek on July 11, 1900. He apparently died there as well, date unknown. He’s last mentioned on the 1911 census.

Barman writes that despite its longevity, the marriage of Lum Kee and Lucy Hope was “not without its tensions and contradictions.”

His partnering decision was pragmatic, being expeditious and inexpensive compared to the acquisition of a woman from China, but all of these factors did not necessarily make it right from his perspective. Indicative of Ah Lum’s ambivalence the family did not associate with Lucy’s family: “We just go by Chilliwack. We don’t know who mother’s relatives are. We don’t see no Indians around. We don’t mix with them.”

Lucy (nee Williams) Lum, Fort Steele, date unknown.

(Fort Steele Heritage Town Archives fs 455.07)

In 1907, Lillian married Chu Ban Quan, who owned the Invicta mine on Wild Horse Creek in East Kootenay. She was 16 or 18; he was 45. That same year Ah Lum moved to Cranbrook to establish a grocery store and subsequently the entire Lum family gravitated toward Fort Steele.

Lily and her husband ran a billiard room in Cranbrook and later a market garden on five acres rented from St. Eugene Mission. After his death, she continued on with the help of her two sons until her passing in Cranbrook on Dec. 7, 1966, age 75 or 77.

Peter Lum had a varied career that included installing penstocks for hydraulic mining on Wild Horse Creek, driving logs on the Bull River, guiding big game hunters, and packing supplies to mines. From 1929 to 1939, with brother George, he offered trail rides at Lake Louise. He died in Cranbrook on Aug. 31, 1998, age 101.

Pete Lum working on a hydraulic mining operation on Wild Horse Creek.

(Fort Steele Heritage Town Archives fs 5.465)

Chin Lum Kee, the patriarch, sensed in 1920 that his death was at hand. He burned his shop records in forgiveness of his debtors, and returned to China, accompanied by son George. He died less than six months later. His wife remained in Fort Steele, where she ran a laundry and raised livestock. She died in 1951, age 97.

We Sing Hop Yuen, Robert Edward Hop Yuen, Albert Hop Yuen

Lum Kee’s eldest daughter Maggie married Hop Yuen, a storekeeper from Greenwood. On Sept. 22, 1901, she gave birth at Rock Creek to We Sing Hop Yuen, although it wasn’t registered until almost three years later (seen below). The birth was attended by Maggie’s mother Lucy. We Sing is not on the 1911 census, which might indicate he died in childhood.

At least two of his four siblings were also born in Rock Creek: Robert Edward Hop Yuen (also known as Sammy Lee and Robert Aimer), although his birthdate was given on the 1911 census as January 1902, only four months after We Sing was born (perhaps they were one and the same?); and Albert Hop Yuen (also known as Albert Francis Aimer), born in either July 1903 or on Feb. 1, 1904. Vincent Hop Yuen was born in February 1906 and Frances Hop Yuen in October 1907, both probably in East Kootenay.

Hop Yuen was a partner with Kong Op in the Greenwood firm of Hop Chong, which was dissolved in March 1901. The following year he was in Fort Steele and was a partner in the new firm of Hop Yuen, Lum Kin Co. Later, he partnered with Lily’s husband Ban Quan in the Quong Yuen Co. of Cranbrook, which was both a grocery store and an employment agency for sawmills willing to hire Chinese workers. This firm dissolved in 1907. Hop Yuen’s marriage also dissolved; a notice in the Cranbrook Prospector of July 4, 1908 read:

Take Notice – My wife Maggie Lim [sic] Kee, having left my bed and board, notice is hereby given that I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by her after this date.

On the 1911 census, Hop Yuen appears in Midway, working as a cook in an hotel. That same year, Maggie Hop Yuen was advertising the Mountain House at Fort Steele for sale or rent. She subsequently married Bill Aimer Hart, and her sons took the surname Aimer.

Tragedy struck in 1923, as the Greenwood Ledge of Aug. 30 reported:

Vernon Hop Yuen, of Fort Steele, who has been staying with R. Lum at Rock Creek was drowned in the Kettle River at the mouth of Rock Creek on Saturday last. While bathing he took cramps and was drowned before he could be rescued. Coroner Dr. W.H. Wood of Greenwood held an enquiry and the verdict was “accidental drowning.” The funeral took place on Tuesday, Rev. Father Coccola of Grand Forks officiating. The father and mother arrived from Nelson and Fort Steele to attend the funeral.

Vernon was the same person as Vincent Hop Yuen; he was 17 at the time. He was buried at Rock Creek in a grave that is no longer marked.

The R. Lum mentioned was his uncle Dick, who had moved back to Rock Creek by 1912. The obituary also reveals that Vernon/Vince’s father Hop Yuen was then in Nelson, although he was not listed in the civic directories around that time. I don’t know what became of him after that. Maggie Lum Hart died at Bull River on Sept. 23, 1925, age 39, of uterine cancer. She was buried at Fort Steele.

Robert Edward Hop Yuen, aka Robert Aimer, aka Robbie Hart, aka Sammy Lee, crossed the border at Seattle in March 1927, listing his occupation as “seaman and professional boxer.” An online family tree indicates he boxed as a welterweight, but I have been unable to find any record of his matches.

The same form indicated he had previously been in San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere in the US from February 1919 to February 1927. He listed as his nearest relatives his brother Albert, a logger, and sister Frances, a waitress, both of Cranbrook. He apparently died in San Francisco in 1987, age 84 or 85.

In addition to working in the woods, Albert Aimer was also a miner. He died in Prince George, also in 1987, age 83, and was buried in Quesnel. His death registration was signed by a cousin, Bertha Gee of Quesnel.

Ira Lum, Rosa Lum, Fay Lum

When he was 22 or 23, Dick Lum married Julia Chesaw, 19. Like Dick, she was born to a Chinese father and First Nations mother. Her father was Joseph Charles Chee Saw (for whom Chesaw, Wash. was named), while her mother was Susane Louie. Her birthdate was June 14, 1881. Some sources say she was born in Washington state, others say Nicholson Creek, near Rock Creek.

The Greenwood Miner of Aug. 24, 1900 reported on Dick and Julia’s wedding. The genealogical information it provided about Dick’s parents was inaccurate, although it’s conceivable his father might have spent time in Honolulu:

Perhaps the ceremony was exclusive because Julia was very pregnant. Two weeks later, on Sept. 5, she gave birth to William Sylvester (Willie), the first of their five children. Rosa Alexanderina (or Alexandra) followed on Jan. 27, 1902, Ira Henry (or Hirum) on Feb. 8, 1907, Julie Edwards in 1908, and Fay Ida Katherine on July 9, 1913. Rosa, Ira, and Fay were all born in Rock Creek, and Willie probably was too.

Rosa Lum (centre) in a Rock Creek class photo, October 1915.

(Courtesy Kettle River Museum)

Ira Lum (centre) in the same 1915 Rock Creek class photo.

(Courtesy Kettle River Museum)

An online family tree says Julie was born in Washington state. She died there as well, date unknown, but presumably before 1911, as she does not appear on the Canadian census that year. On the latter, Julia, Willie, Rosa, and Ira are all shown as living in Cranbrook; Dick was absent.

Willie died in Greenwood on Aug. 2, 1915, age 14, of blood poisoning following an infection on his knee and leg. He spent eight days at the Sisters Hospital before succumbing. He was buried in the Rock Creek cemetery, where his grave is still marked (seen below right).

Ira helped his father when they had a pony stand at Lake Louise in the 1930s. He married an Indigenous woman, Alvina Theresa McDougal. Their daughter, Marilyn James, a prominent Slocan Valley resident, once wrote: “Our family was persecuted on the Colville reservation for reason of our mixed-race ancestry.” Ira died in Spokane on April 8, 1975, age 68, and was buried at Okanogan, Wash.

On July 3, 1920, at age 18, Rosa married Roscoe Alexander Rusch in Grand Forks. Roscoe, 19, was a mechanic, and part of another pioneering Rock Creek family. They were married for over 68 years, until Roscoe’s death in 1989, age 88. Rosa died in Oliver on March 11, 1993, age 91.

Fay married her cousin, William Ban Quan, the son of Chu Ban Quan and Lillian Lum. He was killed in 1947 when a loaded gravel truck he was driving went over a trestle at Kimberley. Fay then married Jack Hamilton. She died in Oliver on March 19, 1982 at age 68 and was buried in Osoyoos.

In 1924, Julia Lum died of kidney failure at the Cookson section house along the Kettle Valley Railway. She was a beloved figure in the area, judging by her obituary in the Greenwood Ledge of Sept. 25:

Her grave is still marked and is seen below:

After Julia’s death, Dick Lum married Theresa Bernadett Andrews, a Ktunaxa woman. Although they were both in their late 60s, they adopted two children. Dick died in Cranbrook in 1952, age 77. He was buried at Fort Steele.

The following table summarizes the above Rock Creek births in chronological order.

Therefore, Chin Lum Kee had three children and at least six grandchildren born at Rock Creek.

Other early Chinese-Canadian births

The 1923 schedule of Chinese-Canadian births that I mentioned above also includes the following birthplaces and names but not birthdates:

Mar Shu Ling was born July 6, 1911, supposedly the first Chinese-Canadian baby in Nelson. His sons Lawrence and Allen Mar are well known in Nelson.

Annie Kee (born Jan. 23, 1911) and Jessie Kee (born Nov. 30, 1912) were daughters of Jim and Annie Kee, who I have previously written about. Lung Kee and Victoria Kee might actually be two different people: Henry Lung Kee, born in Kaslo on Jan. 7, 1909 and baptized James Barrington Kee; and Victoria Kee, who was born in Calgary in 1919.

I don’t know anything about Dea Mon Quong or Chew Hoe Jue.

The 1921 census found Nelson’s Chinatown had a population of about 130, all but three of whom were men. Bootmaker Chang Kei, 60, lived with wife Chon Shu, 47, and their BC-born children William, 23, and Mary, 4.

In Kaslo, logging contractor Chow Wone (also known as Chow Soy Chung) lived on D Avenue with his second wife Moy Foon and their daughters Lillian, 3; Helen, 2; and Irene, six months. Moy Foon was the daughter of prominent Nakusp market gardener Sam Henry and his first wife. She first came to Canada at age 10, went back to China for three years, and returned to Canada in 1915.

According to an online family tree, Helen was born in Silverton on May 2, 1918. Lillian (Lily) was also born in Silverton; Irene (or Eileen) was born at Meadows around 1919; and Moon Yee (Mona), who is noted in the chart above, was born in Kaslo in 1922. Although Chow Wone’s surname was Chow and given name was Wone, in line with British convention, all of his children born in Canada took Wone as their surname.

The Wone family, as seen on Chinese Exclusion Act records from April 1924. Clockwise from top left: Helen, Eileen, Mona, Chung Soy, Moy Foon, and Lilly.

More children followed, all born in Kaslo: William (1925-2002), Diane (1930-2015), Richard (1932-1995), Claire (1936-38). Chow Wone died in Kaslo on March 17, 1937, age 55. Moy Foon died in Vancouver in 1976.

Helen married Henry Fang Wong of Trail in Kaslo in 1937 and at an unknown date married Bob Lee. She died in Trail on June 6, 1981. Irene died in Burnaby in 1997. Mona died in 2005. Lillian’s date and place of death are unknown.

The family portrait below is part of the Yucho Chow collection now at the City of Vancouver archives.

(City of Vancouver Archives AM1688-S1-F5-: 2021-034.151)

According to the caption, this was taken in Vancouver around 1930, and is believed to have been before the family left on a trip to Hoy Ping, China. However, if these are all Wone children, then it has to be between 1936 and 1938. Back row, from left, Helen and Lily. Front row, from left, Mona, Moy Foon holding infant Diane, Bill and Tommy [Richard?] at front, Chow Wone, presumably holding Claire, and Irene.

Updated on Jan. 8, 2019 to add information about Suzette Chung from Charlayne Thornton-Joe and on March 5, 2021 to add more information about Lan Chung, Suzette Chung, William Gunn, and Christine Gunn from Wes Woo, along with family photos, and on July 3, 2023 to add more information bout the Wone family along with the pictures, and on March 26, 2024 to add the family portrait.

3,809 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

I absolutely loved this read. Read every work. Fascinating. Thank you☺️

bottom of page