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Wong Bing and Jessie Goldie: An Unlikely Friendship

By: Scott Forfar

Last week, I introduced the story of Wong Bing’s life as a cook at Rainbow Ranche in Okanagan Centre. The Rainbow Ranche was a prosperous 525-acre farm with the first large acreage of fruit planted in Lake Country.[1]

Wong Bing was 39 years old when he started working for the Goldie family at the Rainbow Ranche in 1916. The unlikely friendship he developed with Jessie Goldie, wife of James (Jim) Goldie, co-owner and manager of the Rainbow Ranche, is recounted in her diary.

Jessie considered Wong Bing as one of the best friends she ever had.[2] Let’s dive into Jessie’s diary again and explore how their friendship developed.

Their close and trusting friendship likely started gradually. Jessie admitted at the beginning of her diary entries that, “It was a strange experience for one brought up so quietly to suddenly find oneself in a far country and not in the least accustomed to (Asians) – with (Chinese) in the kitchen and (Japanese) working in the garden.”

Prevailing anti-Asian attitudes undoubtedly coloured Jessie’s initial perceptions. At the time, local newspapers often published articles that described Asian communities with words like “undesirable”, “invasion” and a “serious moral menace”. [3]  This was just a few years before the start of the Exclusion Era (1923 – 1947) when the federal government banned almost all Chinese immigration to Canada.

Jessie herself emphasizes Wong Bing’s industrious and trustworthy qualities in her diary perhaps showing her awareness of common negative stereotypes of the era. “He was honesty itself,” she wrote. “Money might stay in view for weeks and never be touched.”

Along with his many admirable virtues, it was Wong Bing’s attentive care of the Goldie children that likely solidified his friendship with Jessie. Jim and Jessie Goldie had three children, Anne (born 1914), Nancy (b. 1915) and Robert “Bob” (b. 1917).

It was at Bob’s birth that Jessie experienced a brush with death.

When Bob was born, “childbed fever” (now called puerperal fever) spread through the maternity ward. Puerperal fever was the most common cause of maternal death following childbirth until the 1930’s when anti-bacterial drugs were introduced.[4] Her grand-daughter Tessa McDonnell shared with me that Jessie and one other woman were the only two to survive. She said, “Bob was taken home by a nurse until the crises had passed.”

Surviving that close brush with death undoubtably sharpened Jessie’s focus on her young family. The Goldie children fondly recall their childhood – happily playing together in their tree house, exploring the ranch and going swimming in the lake.[5] Anne described it as “idyllic.” [6]

Jessie had considerable time to spend with her children because Wong Bing handled many of the household chores. She used that time to enrich their childhood with fun games and a great deal of reading.[7]

Perhaps it was his empathy for Jessie’s health scare or the vast distance from his own family in China that drew Wong Bing to help with the Goldie children. Whatever his motivation, his support was appreciated by Jessie.

She wrote of Wong Bing, “He was wonderful with the children – simply adored them – would bring the babies in from their sleep – in their carriage prop them up and give them things to play with – taught Bob to walk and chop wood at the early age of 2 – and really taught him to talk. He would quite burst with pride at their accomplishments.” He was also “very firm with them, never letting them eat things that they were not supposed to have, etc.”

While the Goldie children have fond memories of their childhood there were darker moments in their young lives.  Jessie wrote in her diary, “The poor old boy (Wong Bing) had flu rather badly and as J (Jim) and 2 children were in bed at the time we persuaded him with great effort to go back to the hospital with the doctor who had been called down to see him. He came back very shaky with Bell’s Paralysis and far from well. We sent him off for a holiday.”

Jessie is possibly recounting the third wave of the deadly “Spanish” influenza epidemic that began in 1918. It is a measure of their high regard that the Goldie family paid for Wong Bing’s medical care. A notation in the household account for April 1919 shows, “hospital for cook $12.”  That was a generous gesture by the Goldie family considering Wong Bing’s monthly salary was only $35.

Wong Bing and Jessie Goldie lost touch after he moved to Princeton B.C. in 1920 to start a laundry business. The Goldie family often wondered about his life after the Rainbow Ranche.

We know he was a generous man, engaged in civic life, as he is listed as a donor to the hospital maintenance appeal in Princeton in 1921.[8] His name also appeared earlier as a contributor to the Canadian Patriotic Fund in Vernon in 1916.[9]

Reflecting on their story, I am encouraged by how two people from diverse backgrounds can transcend commonly held prejudices and social status to forge an unlikely friendship based on respect and trust.

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.  

[1] Funk, S. (2003). The History of Rainbow Ranche. LCMA

[2] Land, A. (July 9, 2003). Interview by Susan Funk

[3] Kelowna Courier and Okanagan Orchardist (April 18, 1918). Drastic Resolution as to Asiatics in B.C., P. 3


[4] Dobson, Mary (2007). Disease: the extraordinary stories behind history’s deadliest killers. McGill University. p. 72.

[5] Funk, Susan. (2009) Rainbow Ranche 73rd Report of the Okanagan Historical Society. p. 107.

[6] Funk, S. (2003). The History of Rainbow Ranche. LCMA

[7] Funk, S. (2003). The History of Rainbow Ranche. LCMA

[8] Hospital Maintenance Appeal Receives Generous Response. Princeton Star, Jan 21, 1921 p. 1

[9] Vernon News (April 6, 1916). Subscriptions to Patriotic Fund, p. 1


Jessie Goldie reading a book with her daughters Anne and Nancy.

Jessie Goldie holding her son Robert (Bob).


1 Comment

  • This is such a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. I wondered about the history of the Chinese in Lake Country, since it was before my time…
    I do know how wonderful the Goldie Family was with my Japanese Okanagan Centre relatives. They were truly generous people who overlooked colour differences and engaged in relationships that concentrated on honesty and integrity, despite the popular opinion of the day…My grandfather Denbei Kobayashi considered Jim Goldie a dear friend, Anne Land was a true friend to my Mom Sachiyo Koyama and Nancy and I (Sharon Koyama Hope) carry that friendship into another generation. Great story..thank you!

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