Toronto filmmaker Weiye Su opens his 16-minute documentary, “A Passage Beyond Fortune”, with a personal reflection as narrator.
“Someone once told me in Saskatchewan, every town has a Chinese restaurant and story,” the former Regina resident says in the National Film Board production.
Su, an immigrant from China, then talks about an urban myth that arose that in Moose Jaw. This came about after tunnels were discovered beneath the downtown in the 1980s.
According to an urban legend, Chinese immigrants lived underground in these passageways. Moreover, they were kept there so they could toil for white business owners and avoid detection by immigration authorities.
“In 2000, a tour company began selling this story,” Su continues. “It became an attraction to learn about Saskatchewan’s history. After the tour, I felt ashamed and disrespected. I wondered what the Chinese community had to say.”
It turns out that this tale was riddled with inaccuracies.
Su’s film, “A Passage Beyond Fortune”, doesn’t take viewers inside the tunnels. Nor does it detail all the historical shortcomings in The Tunnels of Moose Jaw’s Passage to Fortune tour. For that, people need to watch Historia Nostra’s 2020 YouTube video, “Chinese Canadian ‘History’ at the Tunnels of Moose Jaw”.
Rather, what Su delivers in his gentle yet biting film is the authentic history of one Chinese immigrant family to Moose Jaw. It serves as a microcosm of the broader story of the city’s Chinese community, which overcame adversity and discrimination and still managed to succeed.
Su shares parents’ stories
In 1951, Gale Chow moved to Canada at the age of 14.
Gale met his wife, Myrna, as a result of her grandfather. He was living in Churchill and decided that Gale would be a good husband for her. So she was brought over from Hong Kong. Gale went on to became a leader in Moose Jaw’s Chinese community.
Late in life, he and his wife moved to Regina to join their son, which is shown in the film.
The Chows come across as a thoroughly decent and humble couple who maintained their dignity—and sense of humour—in the face of considerable challenges.
Here’s Gale’s quip about being asked why he married a woman he had never met before.
“Chinese marriage [is] like boiling water,” he says. “It starts a bit cold and then gradually getting hot. Ha ha.”
Unlike what was depicted in The Tunnels of Moose Jaw tour attended by Su, many early Chinese immigrants to the city were successful in business. Su, as narrator, declares that they worked for themselves.
“What I saw in the Tunnels was far away from their stories,” he says.
Film focuses attention on Chinese exclusion
The Chows were only able to immigrate to Canada because of the lifting of Chinese exclusion legislation following the Second World War. And Su lays out how the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act kept Chinese families apart for more than two decades.
“Telling our stories allows us to reclaim history and make space for generations to come,” the filmmaker states.
It also helps debunk popular myths about the community that paint a distorted picture.
It’s a timely message as Canada approaches the 100th anniversary on July 1 of the enactment of the Chinese exclusion law. For most Canadians, it’s known as Canada Day. But some in the Chinese community still refer to it as Humiliation Day for reasons that Su makes so easily understood in his documentary.