Henry Wong celebrated his 100th birthday at the West End Cafe on Nov. 23. He has lived and worked as a cook in Prince Rupert for more than 30 years. (Matthew Allen / The Northern View)

Heart of Our City: One hundred years strong

Henry Wong celebrated his 100th birthday at the West End Cafe on Nov. 23.

There are a list of things that Henry Wong attributes his long life to.

He never drinks cold water, only eats food that has been cooked well and regularly drinks a special soup with Chinese herbs, such as ginseng.

He tries to get lots of fresh air everyday, religiously completes a 10 minute exercise routine daily and avoids MSGs like the plague.

However, the most important thing Wong has found in his 100 years is to be content, happy and at peace with life.

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“You have to stay happy,” Wong said. “If I’m watching TV and I see something that makes me sad, I change to something different. I don’t like being sad. I like to see happy things. To keep your health you must be happy.”

Wong was surrounded by family and friends on Nov. 22 at the West End Cafe to celebrate his 100th birthday. The occasion brought people from the community, including dignitaries from city council as well as representatives from the provincial legislature and the House of Commons to celebrate the milestone.

Wong said he wasn’t expecting such a big fuss to be made over his birthday, but was grateful nonetheless with the turnout.

“I’m happy, I’m very surprised,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be a big party like this.”

Perhaps Wong shouldn’t have been so surprised, given what celebrating a 100th birthday actually means.

Wong was born in Victoria, Canada in 1918. His father, who had 12 children with six different wives, moved to Canada to work on the railroad. Wong, who was the fifth oldest out of the 12, was sent back to China in 1928 to get his education with six of his siblings.

Wong lived in the city of Guangzhou where he attended high school before graduating when he was 18 years old, but the family was eventually forced to flee the city and move to Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion in 1937.

Wong said this was an uncertain time in his life when his very freedom was never guaranteed. Once, while going with a friend to town, Wong was randomly detained by Japanese soldiers and held in one of their army bunkers.

“They did it for no reason,” he said. “And they could kill you if you didn’t do what they said. I thought I would die there.”

After being held for six hours, Wong was released although he never found out the reason why.

At this time, he also met his wife Julia and together they had two sons, Philip and William. Julia passed away a few years later.

Wong and his two sons moved back to Guangzhou but it was not long before trouble struck again. The Communist Party, that had consolidated power in the country by this time, began to seize privately owned land and Wong’s family lost their property.

Wong eventually decided to return to Vancouver to seek more opportunities. In 1947, he was able to make the move with help from an uncle who gave him $1,000 to go toward the costs of a single ferry ticket to Canada.

He was soon hired at the BC Royal Restaurant in Vancouver where he worked as a cook for 30 cents an hour. It took him 10 years working 10 hour days to save enough money for his sons to come and join him in Canada. Without proper documentation for either of them, the immigration officer on duty at the time almost did not allow Wong to take his sons.

“The officer tested him asking him to identify his older brother [who was bringing the boys over] from hundreds of pictures of people,” said Adrian Wong, Henry’s grandson. “He was able to identify his brother’s photo, and the officer accepted his request.”

After being reunited with his sons, Wong settled into Canadian life, continuing to work as a cook in Vancouver before moving to Prince Rupert in 1979 where he worked at Brad’s Drive-In. Wong said he immediately felt at home in the calm environment of northwest B.C.

“There’s peace and quiet here,” he said. “And everyone is really friendly and says good morning to you.”

Wong would continue to work as a cook until retiring in 2012. Today, he enjoys watching his favourite sports teams play. His grandson Adrian said that Wong is an avid fan of the Canucks, BC Lions, New England Patriots, Toronto Raptors, Blue Jays and the Whitecaps. He also enjoys watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune in the evenings.

More impressive, he is still independent, sharp and full of life at 100 years old.

“Even today, my grandfather is clear minded, still can walk unassisted, drive a car, and is self-sufficient at 100 years old,” said Adrian. “It’s an amazing achievement.”

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