Chinese immigrants with the same surname formed family associations. Among the early family associations were the Li She Kong So (Lee Association) and Lem Si Ho Tong (Lem Society) that can still be found in Chinatown. Another long-standing association is Lung Kong Kung So whose membership is made up of people with four surnames: Liu (Lew, Low), Guan (Kwan, Quan, Quon), Zhang (Cheung, Chong), and Zhao (Chu, Chew).
In China, there are about 1,000 surnames. The most prevalent among the early Chinese immigrants in Canada were Lee, Lem, Wong, and Chan. Although surnames do not necessarily connect people as blood relatives, they likely share the same ancestor from the distant past. It is not unusual for the people from a village to have the same surname.
The Wong Wun Sun King So (Wong Association) is another early family association that is still active today. Wong is the seventh most popular surname in China and there are 39 million Wongs around the world.6 The first Wong in Canada was recorded in 1858 and the first Chinese baby born in Canada was a Wong — Won Alexander Cumyow.
Other associations were also established for people from the same counties or geographic districts. Kwong Hoi Hui Kuan, as an example, had members who were from the district of Kwong Hoi. The Chinese kept a strong connection to their home village and considered themselves part of it no matter the distance.
Excerpted from The Chinese Community in Toronto: Then and Now by Arlene Chan, published by Dundurn Press. Copyright © 2013 by Arlene Chan
Image credit: Wayne Adam, 2015