Wong place, right time: Wongs of Canada gather for convention in Edmonton

Wong National Convention
WATCH ABOVE: More than 150 people gathered in Edmonton from across the country for a special convention. The thing tying them all together? Their last name. Julia Wong explains.

There were so many Wongs, it was right.

On Saturday, a gathering of people with the surname Wong took place in downtown Edmonton.

More than 150 Wongs from Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver are in Alberta’s Capital Region this weekend for the 10th Annual Wong Convention, held by the Wong’s Benevolent Association. The association works to preserve the stories of those named Wong but historically also helped immigrants integrate into Canadian society.

Full disclaimer, this reporter is also a Wong.

Lion dancers perform in front of the Wongs.
Lion dancers perform in front of the Wongs. Julia Wong/Global News
The group marches behind the lion dancers to Hyatt Place.
The group marches behind the lion dancers to Hyatt Place. Julia Wong/Global News

The meeting of the Wongs started with a large family photo in front of the Wong’s Benevolent Association on 96 Street before a lion dance and parade to Hyatt Place.

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A convention based on a last name is unusual, some would say. So, what happens during a Wong Convention?

“We talk about what’s everybody up to, some of the news,” said Ming Wong, president of the Toronto chapter. “Then we talk about various topics, such as the transition plans [for benevolent associations] – what are you doing?”

Simon Wong, of Calgary, said the convention, held every three years, is a reason for Wongs to reunite.

“We are living in different parts of Canada,” he said. “It’s important for [us] to gather together to share ideas, to express what [we] need and different regions – what they are facing and what they are trying to improve.”

Watch below: The 10th annual Wong National Convention is being held in Edmonton this long weekend. Global’s Julia Wong speaks with one of the organizers who breaks down the event.

Annual Wong Convention
Annual Wong Convention

It’s believed the first Wong came to Canada in the 1800s.

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“A lot of people come from Toisan [also Taishan in Mandarin],” said King Yeung Wong, president of the Vancouver chapter. He came to Canada in 1951. “Wong families in Toisan is a big family. That’s why we got lots of Wongs [in] Vancouver.”

Wilson Wong, president of the Montreal chapter, said being a Wong is something to be proud of.

“The Wongs, we have our old ancestors, they worked so hard, laid down the foundation,” he said. “You can see the young generation – we have doctors, we have accountants, we have lawyers – all kinds of professions.”

Ming Wong said it is an honour to carry the name of Wong.

“It’s one of the oldest names,” he said. “The Wong Association is one of the oldest associations and there’s a very rich history and heritage.”

As he looked out at the crowd on Saturday, Ming said the sight of so many Wongs was “quite amazing.”

“I’m always quite interested in hearing from the elders and the rich histories that they bring.

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“It’s not something you can find in the history books or in Google,” Ming said. “It is one of the things we hope to capture somehow, because so much of the history and heritage is in people’s heads. If we don’t try to get them now, we may never have them.”

Glen Wong, the Edmonton organizer of the convention, said he gets a “warm feeling” being amongst a group of people sharing his last name.

“Most of us are actually related. We are descendants of the Wongs. I consider these aunties and uncles, brothers and sisters.”

The convention includes a welcome dinner Saturday night and a movie screening and banquet Sunday before out-of-town Wongs leave on Monday.