The Lee family of Leaside

The Lee family of Leaside. Photo by Jane So.
The Lee family of Leaside. Photo by Jane So.

Most Leaside residents know that William Lea was the founder of Leaside, but how many know of the other Lees of Leaside? I’m talking about James and Katie Lee of North Leaside and their five children.

Although the Lees didn’t settle in Leaside in 1913 when it was officially incorporated, this year they are celebrating their 50th year in the community – impressive by any standard.  James’ father, Sam Lee, was one of the early Chinese immigrants to young Canada, paying the head tax in the early 1900s under the Chinese Immigrant Act before resettling back in China.

I am embarrassed to say that I only became aware of the Lees’ rich history in Ward 26 as the result of an invitation from their daughter, Jane, to participate in the Toronto City Mission and Chinese Gospel Church’s community outreach event in Flemingdon Park. Each year they host a free BBQ (and invite me to bring the cotton candy!) in the Toronto Community Housing complex. Besides offering the kids a day of fun, it is an opportunity to sign them up for free summer camp and after-school programs.

While chatting with Jane, I discovered that her parents first settled in Toronto in 1959 when James performed quality control in the lab of the newly opened Redpath Sugar.

Moving to North Leaside in 1967, her parents raised five children (Jane, John, Henry, Joan and Bennett) and now have nine grandchildren who all attended or are attending either Northlea Public School or Leaside High. The family is currently 21 strong – about half the original population of Leaside – living in seven different homes throughout the community.

Now in his late 80s, James still volunteers teaching Tai Chi at St Cuthbert’s Church. He recently retired after 15 years of volunteering at the Veterans’ wing at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

James was a founding member of the Chinese Gospel Church in 1963 and is still on the board of the Lee Association, of which Sam was a founding member. I was interested to learn that while the association’s main mission now is to disburse scholarships, its original purpose was to offer a common meeting place for the extended “Lee relatives”.  There, those new to Toronto could find social support as well as financial aid (at a time when it was almost impossible for new immigrants to receive bank loans).

So, while Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary, I would like to congratulate James and Katie on their 50th anniversary in Leaside. They have not only enriched our community but all of Toronto.

About Jon Burnside 34 Articles
Jon Burnside is City Councillor for Ward 26.