Vietnamese refugees return to P.E.I. for emotional, 40-year reunion

Hai and Ahn Truong first arrived in P.E.I. as refugees in 1979, helped by former premier Catherine Callbeck, and have visited the province year after year since.

Hai and Ahn Truong first arrived in P.E.I. as refugees in 1979

The Truong family reunited this week with former P.E.I. Premier Catherine Callbeck, centre, who helped them start new lives in Canada back in 1979. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

A 40th anniversary reunion in P.E.I. this week spans not only the country, but the entire globe.

Ahn and Hai Truong arrived in Canada from Vietnam as refugees in 1979.

A committee from the Bedeque United Church, led by then-future P.E.I. Premier Catherine Callbeck, took on their cause and helped them reach the Island.

A 21-month-old Cindy Truong waves to the camera with her two parents on CBC's Compass in 1985. (Scott Russell/CBC)

Ahn and Hai left for Calgary a year later to take jobs at a hospital. CBC P.E.I. caught up with the family back in 1985 when they returned to the Island for a brief visit.

"I expect to come back to visit them because they are so nice," said Hai back in 1985. "I want to remember forever."

'We’re always delighted to have them come back and visit,' says Catherine Callbeck, centre. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

And back they came, again and again. Hai and Ahn brought their children back to the province every couple of years as they grew up, to remind them of their parents' first home in Canada.

"It's so exciting to come back and visit them after the past 40 years," said Hai.

This time they were visiting Callbeck at her cottage just outside Bedeque. They flipped through family photo albums and everyone was in tears.

The Truongs took time to look through family photos during their visit to P.E.I. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"It's wonderful," said Callbeck. "We're always delighted to have them come back and visit. We exchange telephone calls through the year and birthdays and so on."

Hai and Ahn moved to Toronto years ago, where all of their grown children now live, but P.E.I. will always have a special meaning to their family.

'It honestly feels like home'

"It honestly feels like home," said Jennifer Truong, one of their daughters. "I've been here probably three times in Prince Edward Island and it just has the same smell, the same memories."

And no matter how busy they get, the Truongs always want to make time to reunite with the Islanders who feel like family.

"I mean we all work hard and we all have our lives to live," said Michael Truong, the couple's son. "But when we're here, we leave that all behind us so we can put all our energy into just being here."

'And I will be sure to pass that on to my daughter and remind her that, just, two simple words, to be kind, goes a long way,' says Cindy Truong. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Cindy Truong, another of Hai and Ahn's daughters, grew up knowing Callbeck as a family friend. But now that Cindy is a mother with a daughter of her own, what Callbeck did for her parents has a different meaning to her. 

"I feel like a big reason of the person I am today is because of that," said Cindy. "And I will be sure to pass that on to my daughter and remind her that … you can change someone's life."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Jessica Doria-Brown


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