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Wong Bing: A Cook’s Life at Rainbow Ranche

Chop wood, pump water, wash clothes, pick vegetables, cook and serve family and
ranch hand meals – that was the daily routine for Wong Bing working at the
Rainbow Ranche from 1916 to 1920.


Wong Bing’s life on the ranch was recorded by his employer, Jessie Goldie, in her
diary. Her few pages of fond recollections provide a fascinating glimpse of
prevailing attitudes at the time and family life on a large farm and orchard.
The Rainbow Ranche (yes, it’s spelled with an ‘e’) in Okanagan Centre was an
important employer for both year-round and seasonal workers. It had 125 acres of
fruit trees, mostly apple, and 400 acres of rangeland.1


The Goldie family employed a succession of Chinese cooks; however, Wong Bing
made the greatest impression with Jessie, wife of James (Jim) Goldie, co-owner
and manager of the Rainbow Ranche. Jessie glowingly describes Wong Bing
throughout her diary entries. “Old Wong who stayed with us several years was
really a dear and quite part of the family.” She variously describes him as
“wonderfully faithful” and “honesty itself”.2


Jessie’s daughter Anne recalled that her mother often declared that Wong Bing
was one of the best friends she’d ever had.3


Her admiration appears to be mutual. One Christmas, Wong Bing, “bought boots
for the whole family … gave us bulbs and lovely bowls and (a) silk shirt for Jim. In
fact, we had a most embarrassing time trying to prevent him from spending all his
money on us.”


1 Funk, S. (2003). The History of Rainbow Ranche. LCMA.
2 Diary of Jessie Goldie. Loaned by Tessa McDonnell.
3 Land, A. (July 9, 2003). Interview by Susan Funk.
4 Census of Canada, 1921. Library and Archives Canada.

Wong Bing was born around 1877 and immigrated to Canada as a young man, age
25, in 1902.4 Like many Chinese immigrants he was married. He likely sent remittances home to support his wife, any children, parents, siblings and extended
family and clan members in China.5


In Jessie’s diary she often remarks on Wong Bing’s resourcefulness. “We lived off
the fat of the land while he was cook. We grew no strawberries nor bought any,
but the table was always supplied throughout the season. The same with
asparagus and different things. We made no close inquiries but often imagined
that our own eggs might have been traded to a fellow countryman on the hill.”


The benefits of those community connections extended beyond the Goldie
household to the operations of the ranch. Jessie wrote that Wong Bing, “would
hurry through his work and go up to pick when J (Jim) was very short handed and
once got a gang of (Chinese) at a critical time which helped J (Jim) out greatly. In
fact, the whole weight of the ranch rested on his shoulders.”


Wong Bing may have helped recruit those workers from a labour boss in Kelowna
or Vernon’s Chinatown who contracted with local farmers to employ labourers.6
The account book for the ranch notes hiring Chinese workers “Lees Gang” and
“Poys Gang” along with two of “Wongs Friends” for the fall harvests from 1916 to
1918. 7


Wong Bing’s complete integration into the Goldie family’s life is illustrated by an
amusing anecdote that Jessie recalled. “It was when Wong was with us that we
only had the 2 drinking glasses for the table, and we were always curious to know
who would get them if a stranger came for a meal. If important in Wong’s
estimation the glass was given to (the) newcomer and taken away from D (Robert
Dormer, ranch co-owner) and we could always divine what Wong thought of
guests socially by this manoeuver. If inferior in station, D (Dormer) retained his
glass.”


During the winter of 1919 the Goldie family went back to Toronto for Christmas.
Wong Bing looked after the house for them, and just before the family returned,
he got a friend to come in his place and went to Princeton B.C. to start up a
laundry business.


5 Voss, B., Kennedy, J.R. and Tan, S.J. (2019). The Transnational Lives of Chinese Migrants. Material Culture Research from a Guangdong Province Qiaoxiang. p. 13. Stanford University
6 Wong, T. (2014) Memories of Kelowna’s Chinatown. Okanagan Historical Society 78th Report. p. 45
7 Rainbow Ranche Ledger, 1916 – 1922. Pages 345 – 349. LCMA

The 1921 census shows Wong Bing living in Princeton. He is listed as the head of
household, living with two other married men, Wong Hugh (age 31) and Wong
Zen (age 23). Their professions were listed as laundrymen. They may be the same
two friends who worked with Wong Bing a few years earlier at the Rainbow
Ranche.


“It is sad to think that we have no photograph or snap of any kind of him,” wrote
Jessie. Indeed, Wong Bing’s life before and after his time with the Goldie family
remains unknown for now. Hopefully he found his pot of gold at the end of the
rainbow.


Next week’s article continues the story of Wong Bing and how a brush with death
strengthened his unlikely friendship with Jessie Goldie.


Thank you to the McDonnell family for sharing their grandmother Jessie Goldie’s
diary with us. Wong Bing’s story is presented in the feature exhibit Beyond
Chinatown: Lake Country Stories on now at the Lake Country Museum &
Archives.

Cook’s summer shack (in foreground) at Rainbow Ranche house.

Photograph courtesy of the Lake Country Museum & Archives

 

The Goldie family with visitors at the Rainbow Ranche, (l to r) Bob, Jessie, Nancy, Margaret Rogers Goldie, Anne (with Minnie the doll), Nora Gibson Goldie and Jim.  

Photograph courtesy of the Lake Country Museum & Archives

1 Comment

  • Nice story

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