British Columbia

'Accidental' writer traces history of pioneer Chinese family in North Cariboo

Liping Wong Yip didn't set out to write a book when she started researching her in-law's family tree. But after years of work, she released her book From Wah Lee to Chew Keen, tracing the family's journey from China to Quesnel over 100 years ago.

New book traces one family's journey from China to Quesnel over 100 years ago

A picture of Wah Lee's descendants. Chew Lai Keen, the son of Wah Lee, sits with his wife, Mon Ho Low, surrounded by their Quesnel-born children. (From Wah Lee to Chew Keen/Friesen Press)

Liping Wong Yip didn't set out to write a book when she started digging into her husband's family history, but after years of research in two continents, her genealogical project is now an award-winning book.

"I should say I'm an accidental writer," Yip said. "English is my second language, and I like writing, but [I thought] a book could be a little bit too much for me."

Her book From Wah Lee to Chew Keen traces the story of a man named Wah Lee. Lee owned and operated a trading store, Wah Lee & Co., in Barkerville and Quesnel.

Yip, who was born and grew up in China but has lived in Canada since 1983, was intrigued by her husband's family history.

"The reason I had been intrigued by this story is the family name changed [at some point]," Yip said.

Yip took the family's original name and traced it back 150 years to a village in Southern China. She then followed the travels of family patriarch Wah Lee to Canada, and chronicled his efforts to support his family back in China.

"I discovered that many stories, which even the family here didn't know, and then the other things vice versa [where the Chinese family didn't know what was happening in Canada]," Yip said.

Yip went back and forth between China several times over four years researching and documenting the family's history, which eventually became her book.

Listen to the full interview with Liping Wong Yip on Daybreak North:

Yip, who recently got an honourable mention in the British Columbia Historical Federation's annual Writing Competition, said Wah Lee's story is part of the rich history of 19th century Chinese immigration from the Pearl River Delta to North America.

"Family history is very important, to know where you're from," Yip said. "You know where you're from and you appreciate the forefathers.

"The older generation went through so much and that is why we have [so much] today."

With files from Daybreak North