There has been some discussion on our Facebook page recently about the grave in the Kemptville Union Cemetery where a Chinese man, Tom Chu, lies buried. It has always been a subject of interest to people as they comment on the lonely grave, away from everyone else, in a far corner of the cemetery near the corner of CR 43 and King Street. Speculation has ranged from him being a worker on the railway, to a persecuted foreigner kept away from “decent” people, even in death.
There is, so far, not a lot to know about Tom Chu. Born in China in 1878, he was 70 years old when he died in Kemptville. Records show that Tam Chu arrived in Canada on the Empress of Russia in 1914 from Hong Kong, landing in Vancouver. Listed as Buddhist, Tam was one of many Chinese immigrants on the ship, and all of them were listed as “Grocers”. Is this the same Tom Chu who is buried in Kemptville? More research is required to track down this information.
What we do know is that, in the 1950’s, there were two businesses run by men of Chinese origin in Kemptville, both on Prescott Street between the bridge and Reuben Street. Melvyn Weedmark described the operations:
“The first building across the bridge was a long, narrow white building with the back overhanging the water. This was a Chinese laundry. Water was pumped from the creek for washing the clothes. Men’s dress shirts were a specialty. I remember walking by and seeing the Chinaman pressing shirts. The heat coming out the door in summer was unbelievable.”
In 1953, an article on businesses in Kemptville noted that the Star Café, a Chinese restaurant, was owned by Henry Wong who had been in Kemptville more than 30 years at that time, and was a native of Ottawa. This was located in the Holmes Block, near the end where the laundry was located.
There is no reference to Tom Chu in the records found so far, but research will continue to see if anything mentions him. As for his location in the cemetery, there seems no reason to believe that Tom was deliberately excluded from being buried near the other graves. If he was, as the records suggest, a Buddhist, that would explain his separate burial site. The fact that there were two Chinese-run businesses in Kemptville, one at least which lasted more than 30 years, would also suggest no racist antagonism, although there are always some who distrust “the other”.
Should any new information come to light about Tom Chu, who lived a long life, worked and died in our community, and whose grave is maintained by anonymous benefactors, we will bring you an update in the Times.