Tablecloths of cheerful yellow and blue and bright centerpieces decorated the front hall of Trinity Lodge on Monday, April 2, in celebration of the 80th birthday of one of the Lodge’s residents, Mr. Philip Kwok.
Over 50 guests, including Mr. Kwok’s wife Ann, daughter Donna Wo, son Eric Kwok, wife Christina and daughter Maggie with special guests Linda and Heiko Socher and Dr. Rod Geddes crowded into the room to sit down to a delicious meal prepared by the Ginger Beef restaurant followed by a variety of desserts including dessert shooters and birthday cake.
Phillip was born in China, “close to Hong Kong, my parents were rich but because of Communism they lost all their money. I worked at the Mearmar Hotel in Hong Kong in the travel department as a tourist guide. “In 1971 Bob and Alta Lowe from Fernie came to Hong Kong. I picked them up in a Rolls Royce and took them sightseeing around. That is how I heard about Fernie. After 10 days when they were about to leave Alta asked me what I wanted to do, I replied I want to come to Canada.
“I knew that China would take over Hong Kong and I wanted to bring my children to Canada. Donna and John Wo came to Fernie first because he got a job as a cook at the House of Lee. John came first with Donna following three months later, she waited until their daughter Kiki was born.”
Philip pauses and takes out his wallet. Slips a card out and hands it to me to read. His granddaughter (Kiki) Elaine Wo is a senior geologist with a Calgary company and he is visibly proud. He places it back in his wallet carefully and continues speaking. “Too many people in Hong Kong, school is free the first 10 years then you have to pay, it is very expensive. When I came to Canada I found work at Kaiser driving the big trucks.”
Philip met Linda and Heiko Socher and they hired the entire family of Philip, Ann, Eric and Christina to work at the Griz Inn. Philip was in charge of the laundry.
“I worked for them for 10 years, no Heiko and Linda, no Philip,” states Philip very matter of fact. He never forgot the kindness of the Sochers. Linda says, “Each year for Christmas we had huge parcels delivered at the door, they were so generous.”
Dr. Geddes asks Eric about the early days. Eric says, “Dad came a few months before I did to Canada, I was 14 years old. My first winter in Canada Linda taught me how to ski. I knew Christine (his wife) since high school. She had a sister who lived in Belgium and we went there to live for about five years on and off.
“But my parents were in Fernie and they said come home. So we started the Ginger Beef, it was the Diamond Grill but I wanted a change of name, we have had it for nearly 22 years. It is the oldest restaurant in town. But now there are so many restaurants in Fernie and not enough population to support them.”
Philip and Ann also came to work in the restaurant and Donna and her husband John owned and operated the very popular Alpine Restaurant for many years until they decided to move to Calgary. They have two children, Colin and Kiki. Unfortunately John passed away suddenly not long after the move and Donna moved back to Fernie. Eric and Christine have two daughters; Maggie a recruiter for Teck and Megan presently at university in Lethbridge.
At 80, Philip is still very agile, a pleasant man with a ready smile. He remembers working and taking English lessons. He says, “I love Fernie, it is nice and quiet here, friends say come to Calgary but I like it here.”
Philip and his family worked hard to make a success of life in Canada. Like many other immigrants they lost a lot due to the political climate of their former homeland. They accepted life’s circumstances and appreciated the opportunity to come to Canada. Their success story is not only financial but also one of quiet strength and resilience, attributes certainly passed down to the third generation visible in the grandchildren.
A thoughtful, caring man, it was interesting to note that although he was the one being honoured, Philip instead honoured his guests. He remained standing until each had filled a plate and found a place before he sat down to eat. A real gentleman in every sense of the word. It was a pleasure to be invited to this 80th birthday party. Congratulations Mr. Kwok and best wishes for many more.”