He lived a quiet life in a small rural Alberta town, where not even his neighbours knew a prince lived among them.
On Oct. 4, at the age of 78, Prince Hso Khan Pha of Yawnghwe died in his home in Innisfail.
Yawnghwe spent nearly his entire adult life in Alberta after his family was exiled from their homeland, the Shan state in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, following a military coup in 1962.
Yawnghwe was the son of a Shan prince of the former State of Yawnghwe and the first president of an independent Burma, helping form the Union of Burma in 1948.
Following the coup, most of the family were either imprisoned, killed, or fled the country to Thailand.
“It was just who we were, it wasn’t anything special, knights and castles,” Hso Shwethaike Yawnghwe, his son, said at a memorial service in Edmonton Sunday.
“His family was exiled in the ’60s and at the time he was actually going to school in England and wasn’t there with his family when they fled to Thailand,” his son added. “He ended up coming to Canada as a geologist to find work.”
“Tiger” Yawnghwe, as he was called in Canada, settled on a home in Innisfail and met his wife in Edmonton. He went on to have four children and eight grandchildren.
He had a long career working in Alberta’s oil and gas sector.
“He was royalty in the Shan state and an ‘Average Joe’ in Canada,” Hso Shwethaike Yawnghwe said of his father. “Family camping trips, going cross country skiing- we were just an ordinary family in Canada.”
Hso Shwethaike Yawnghwe learned of his heritage at an early age. His father shared stories of his people and homeland.
“I can’t imagine what he went through, having your home taken away from you- your life completely changed,” Hso Shwethaike Yawnghwe said, remembering his father as a passionate man who never forgot his people.
“He always worked hard no matter what it was- his job, his family, the freedom of his people.”
While far from his homeland, Yawnghwe said his father worked hard to bring attention to the injustices that took place in Burma.
“He tried to let everyone know there was turmoil there because it was a very closed country and a very closed story that didn’t get a lot of media attention. And a lot of people suffered,” Hso Shwethaike Yawnghwe said.
In 1988, Burma went through a political upheaval when a military junta overthrew the dictatorship, changing the country’s official name from Burma to Myanmar.