Revisiting the past

Nancy
Nancy MacPhee
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Truong family makes pilgrimage to first Canadian home

CENTRAL BEDEQUE — Anh Truong's eyes well up as she speaks about the special place Prince Edward Island, especially Central Bedeque, has in her heart.

The Truong family recently returned to Central Bedeque to visit the people who helped them after Anh and Hai immigrated to Canada from Vietnam 33 years ago. Michael, front left, who was only a baby when his parents came to the Island, embraces Senator Catherine Callbeck, one of the family’s sponsors. Looking on are Anh, third left, Hai, Jennifer, back left, Cindy and her husband, Steve. The family now lives in Toronto.

Although she only lived in the small, picturesque Island community a little less than a year, it’s a place she doesn’t hesitate to call home.

“I come back and I am so proud,” said the petite woman with a warm smile. “God gave me good kids. Some son and my daughters are successful. We always remember, forever.”

It was in the fall of 1979 that the people of Central Bedeque opened their arms to Anh, her husband, Hai, baby son, Michael, and Hai’s sister, Tu Quyen.

The family had fled war torn Vietnam. Opposed to the country’s new government and in fear of their lives, they made the heart wrenching decision to leave the only home they had ever known.

“We decided to try to escape and leave the country,” said Hai. “We escaped for freedom.”

The Truongs planned their escape by boat. Huddled together, sheltering four-month-old Michael, they spent three days and two nights with more than 250 other passengers in a small boat, sailing the uncertain seas to a new life.

They would be robbed by pirates several times, food, clothing and valuables taken.

The Truongs arrived in Malaysia, greeted by Red Cross officials. They would spend five months in a refugee camp before securing passage to Canada.

“We had nothing,” said Anh.

A world away, in Central Bedeque, members of the Bedeque Pastrol Charge learned the plight of the Vietnamese immigrants through the news and wanted to help, opting to sponsor one of the families and help them come to P.E.I. to build a new life.

That family was the Truongs.

On Sept. 29, 1979, after a 24-hour plane ride, the Truongs arrived in Canada. On Oct. 1, they landed in Charlottetown, greeted by members of the church.

“All their earthly belongings were in a green garbage bag, half full,” recalled Senator Catherine Callbeck, one of the family’s sponsors.

The family was put up in a local motel, where they lived for almost a year. Anh, Hai and Quyen enrolled in English classes in Summerside, to where they would move. 

“I wanted to go looking for a job but Catherine Callbeck said, no, you have to go to school first,” recalled Anh. “After, you can work anywhere you want.”

The couple worked hard to start a new life in Canada, Hai at Amalgamated Dairies Ltd. and part-time for George Meikle in Summerside, and Anh at the Lady Slipper Mushroom Company in North Bedeque.

In May 1981, the couple made the difficult decision to move to Calgary, where Anh’s family, who had also immigrated to Canada, was situated.

“We said we’d come back and the sponsor said don’t go, we love you,” said Anh.

They eventually laid down roots in Toronto, raising three children — Michael, Cindy and Jennifer — in Canada’s largest city.

But they would never forget P.E.I., returning a number of times to visit the people they met, like Callbeck, and to show their children their first Canadian home.

“When we come to P.E.I. it’s a special thing,” said Hai. “It’s like we come back home.”

The family was on the Island for a brief visit recently, staying with Callbeck and visiting old friends.

“Even just hearing their story over again, I get emotional about it,” said daughter Cindy, 28. “Just to think that my mother had to go through those kinds of experiences breaks my heart.”

Michael, the only child to live on the Island, is now 33. He recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a PhD, focusing on forensics with a subfield is osteological anthropology.

Cindy spent several years in fashion before moving into the travel industry while Jennifer, the youngest, graduated from York University with a degree in kinesiology. 

“The whole charge became very proud of the family,” said Callbeck, who has visited the Truongs through the years and kept in touch. “We’re extremely proud of this family and what they’ve accomplished.”

As she wiped away tears, Cindy said the kindness of the Islanders who helped her parents is second to none.

“You hear your parents’ stories, the people from the church and how nice they were. You don’t find people this nice anymore and it is rare to find such wholesome, good hearted genuine, kind people,” added the eldest daughter. “The truth is that you will never meet people, anywhere else in the world, as you would in Prince Edward Island.”

Anh and Hai returned to Vietnam only to visit. Most of their family also immigrated to Canada and are scattered across the country.

“It’s a good life,” said Anh, unable to contain her tears any longer.

Overcome with emotion, she then turns to Callbeck.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you to help my family.”

 

nmacphee@journalpioneer.com

 

Organizations: Red Cross, Amalgamated Dairies, Slipper Mushroom Company University of Toronto York University Islanders

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada, Central Bedeque Vietnam Summerside Malaysia Charlottetown North Bedeque Calgary Toronto

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