Mah Society of Edmonton centennial: A family reunion for 10,000 people

How many Mahs do you know? This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the Mah Society of Edmonton. See how they're celebrating.

‘Who doesn’t want a chance to party with all their friends and family?’ says one of many, many Edmonton Mahs

The president of the Edmonton Mah Society, Don Mah, looks back at their 100 year history. 3:52

Don and Jessica Mah poured over the final proof for a new booklet this week. 

It's a look back at the 100-year history of the Mah Society of Edmonton, a 29-page narrative with photos and stories chronicling one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the city.
The Mah Society of Edmonton is located at 9643-101A Avenue. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

The society is marking its centennial, a proud history of helping people from China with the surname of Mah, many who came to Canada to help build the railroad.

"It's very emotional to tell you the truth," said Don Mah, who has been president of the society for the last decade.

"Just imagine yourself; you came here, you had very little understanding of the English language, you had no idea what the culture is, and you're here working so you can provide a better life for your family."

Lip Gar Mah was one of those people, according to granddaughter Winnie Mah.
Lip Gar Mah was one of the founding members of the Mah Society of Edmonton. (John Robertson/CBC)

Enduring hardship, discrimination and racism, he had a number of jobs before landing a gig in a laundromat.

"They had very little room to stay, so he used to sleep on the big ironing boards," his granddaughter said.

Now Winnie Mah is helping to organize a tribute to their ancestors this weekend, including a Chinese buffet banquet for 500 people.

She estimates there are 8,000 to 10,000 Mahs in Edmonton.

"Who doesn't want a chance to party with all their friends and family?" Winnie Mah said.

"If we go back four or five generations, we can trace back what the connection is, which is awesome. You can't do that in many families. We're pretty proud to be able to do that."

It's that kind of family tree sleuthing that 24-year-old Jessica Mah has been doing as publisher of the Mah centennial booklet.
Jessica Mah is the editor of the centennial booklet of the Edmonton Mah Society. (John Robertson/CBC)

As part of the next generation of leaders, she knows her work is special.

"One of the Chinese traditions is to dot the eye of the lion, to breathe new life into something brand new — the next 100 years of our society," she said.

You can see more about the Mah Society of Edmonton on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m. Sunday at 4 p.m. and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.
The cover of the new Mah Society centennial booklet. (Mah Society of Edmonton)

About the Author

Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.