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Published by: Warfleet Press
Release Date: September, 2020
For Faye and Dean Chun Kwong Leung, the 1950s is a busy decade. They have opened an office in Vancouver’s Chinatown called Pender Realty & Insurance and Dean is handling insurance and Faye is handling real estate sales. But their concerns for helping the people of Chinatown will soon lead them in many directions.
Faced with the bulldozing of her beloved Chinatown and her mother and father’s school by city officials to make room for a freeway, Faye singlehandedly takes on city hall and wins, for which the people of Chinatown dub her and Dean the unofficial Mayor and Mayoress of Chinatown. Chinatown holds so many memories for Faye that she devotes the next decade trying to make life better for her people.
Faye and Dean struggle to bring Chinatown into the future, leading the way by example so everyone can live a better life. They open the first trust company branch office in Canada in Chinatown, establish the first banking relationship between a Canadian trust company and an overseas bank in Hong Kong and open the door for businessmen to immigrate to Canada from Hong Kong. What they do is inextricably tied to Chinatown but benefits Canada. Over the course of this book, everything for the Leung family will change – the horrible racism of their past, the struggle of their present, but through it all they have their love for each other which sees them through because they are two in a million!
I don’t want you to think that I had a vision that I was going to write this book but I did pass by Fantasy Gardens a few weeks before being asked to write Faye Leung’s biography. I assumed right away that I was going to be writing a story about Fantasy Gardens because that’s what she was known for and there were probably people out there waiting to hear her side of the story. Not that these people really wanted to learn anything new about Faye Leung but were more interested in seeing if her version supported their vision as to who the villain was in the story. The public was divided. The establishment had long since made up their minds as to who was guilty but they liked hearing the sordid details over and over again about the brown paper bag, the hundred dollar bills, the elusive Taiwanese billionaire and the larger than life Chinese realtor who found herself on the front page of every newspaper in town for months. All these Shaughnessy landlords with their mega acreage homes and their gazebos and luxury cars. Then there were the little guys, the colorful people of the street who supported her through thick and thin. Vander Zalm is no more and political parties come and go but the little guys will always be there rooting for the underdog no matter who the next one happens to be, it’s just the way things are and the way things are done. They all bought the newspapers back in the day and kept up with the stories it was the thing to do at the time. For those with a more wholesome view of life Faye was the culprit. For those with a more cynical view of government and politicians Vander Zalm was the culprit. They would all get together over drinks and make rude remarks about the whole thing. It wouldn’t really matter which group I wrote the book for because they would all have their own viewpoint and their minds made up. Even the wealthy has its good guys and bad guys as does the lower class. So I figured if I wrote a story that gently pokes fun at it all, then both sides might not take themselves too seriously.
So I wrote a story about a kid growing up in Chinatown and all the adventures she experiences. She meets her one true love and they get married. He was a great guy and they both seem like story book characters when I get through. They go into business together in Chinatown and everyone loves them. Great! It was the usual boy meets girl, they fall in love and live a long successful life together. The thing was; I knew I had another story, the real story of Faye and Dean Leung but it took me a while to figure out how to write it. I had all these colorful characters with zany tales to tell living through a crazy time, sitting in a happily forever after story and then it dawned on me. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t write the story for others. I had to be creative and write the story as I saw it, the one I wanted to write. The majority of the establishment and the majority of the little guy on the street probably will find it uncharacteristic, over the top, even demeaning, vulgar or ridiculous. It was the only way though, inspiration, be creative.
It still took me a long time to write the story I wanted. I had a lot of trouble getting Faye’s words out of my head and finding my own voice. The book was supposed to only take a year because that was all that was budgeted for it. I remember what she said at my first meeting with Faye in a board room at SFU in downtown Vancouver.
“It will take more than a year to write my biography,” she tossed that out into left field for all to hear, I guessed to see if it would stick. I would soon discover she was a very good pitcher and often through things out into left field or any field to see if it would stick. The others agreed and one added, to console her,
“There can be other books, Faye. This book is to get you started. It doesn’t have to be your whole story in this one book. She murmured something like,
“That’s for sure, not even half my story.” She wasn’t happy, I could tell. I didn’t think much about it at the time and figured we would work it out when the time came but boy; was I ever wrong. It turned out to be a big problem. My first impression of Faye was that I felt she could be her own worst enemy and I was right.
So, I started by reading through all Faye’s crazy weird manuscripts spread all over her apartment so she could remember where each was when she needed them. The problem was she often couldn’t remember where she had put them. But then I got talking to Faye and it became clear she was dead serious about it all. She had become a semi-recluse in her apartment for decades so she could write all her stories down, stories that most people upon first glance would dismiss as gibberish. She became obsessed and would often write the same story over and over starting in different places. She did other things to help pay the rent but her manuscripts became her obsession. She became the complete story teller of her own life.
There was a gem in each story that she had written. Once it had all been deciphered it became the basis for this book It Ain’t Over Until Faye Leung the Hat Lady Sings. But it took two years to go through everything. There were lots of photos as well. We had created a layout using Faye’s photos and all it needed was the story to be finished. I told Yosef Wosk who had hired me that the story was still not quite ready. He tells me to wrap it up and include what I had written even though I knew it wasn’t fine-tuned yet, because there was no more money. About 8 o’clock that night we get an email from Faye wanting to cancel the book if it isn’t going to be done properly. I trusted you guys, she said.
What was wrong with the book was it was all about her stories and not enough about Faye. I could see that neither of us was going to be happy with the book as it was so I started writing down all the details about writing the book meeting Faye, our interviews, her thoughts, her speech patterns and soon something started to happen. I began thinking back more about my early days growing up in the 1950s and 60s in Vancouver. There was an incredible energy around Faye and before long I was able to capture that energy by concentrating on the details of the times.
Here was this incredible story about energy plus money unfolding in a place that no one ever gave much thought to at least in Caucasian Vancouver, Chinatown. The classic sixties style of Faye Leung with her Oakridge housing development and her Canada Trust branch office helping the little guy move forward towards a better life. She was influencing a whole society. Usually it is the upper class that does this but after World War II, things changed. There was more money everywhere in society. Faye would go on to change the way banking was done in Canada, how construction sites operated, how high buildings could be built and most importantly of all, who could come to Canada to live a better life, all these things greatly changed Canadian society in the twentieth century.
It was not only the little guy whose life she changed but the wealthy as well. Developers made a fortune from what she introduced. In twenty years, the skyline of Vancouver went from three stories to thirty stories. It doesn’t much matter if buildings are three stories or thirty stories but this shift in people’s thinking marked a radical change in society that still goes on today. Not many think what these changes in society are about but are more concerned with the money involved, the wealth created. The educated classes in society who control everything are more interested in what they see today. They were not interested in how what Faye was doing was helping the little guy or that millions of people would be able to come to Canada to live a better life. They were interested only in the money that her fantasies were generating.
A curious thing was happening in Vancouver society as well. Because of what Faye and her husband Dean accomplished they were getting invited to all sorts of society functions, garden parties, balls and parties. They found themselves in the midst of establishment bigwigs, bankers, CEOs, presidents. Faye was asked to be on various boards and to join establishments clubs. She and Dean paved the way for other minorities to follow in their footsteps. Faye was the embodiment of the new sixties girl liberated from the home, a businesswoman, free and willing to speak her mind and take her seat at board meetings with the best of the men.
In later years, she would travel to China and television and the media went crazy over her. But there was a lot of outrage over her lifestyle and why was a woman like that being followed so much by the media. She came to represent the new lifestyle of the day. Not the super lifestyle of the movie stars but more home grown. Faye celebrated the lifestyle of the newly liberated sixties multi-cultural woman. Long after Faye is gone Canadian society will be celebrating what she did. She will still be influencing Canadian life with her flamboyant hats, her modern woman lifestyle and her and her husband’s many achievements. That fantastic Vancouver skyline, now found in every suburb and town in Canada, new Canadians of every color and nationality found in every Canadian city, town and home. The impact that she has had on Canadian people everywhere has been enormous. Yet, she came out of a discriminatory environment with no education.
When you ask new Canadians today who is responsible for their being in Canada they usually refer to something economic. Family money or I worked really hard to get here. I ask them no I mean who is responsible for letting you into Canada? Who opened the door so you could come to Canada and live a better life? It doesn’t matter if I ask a Filipino, an Indo-Canadian or a Mexican; they don’t have the correct answer. When I ask them don’t you know that Canada was once a racist country they usually don’t know or they say something like, oh I heard that. If I tell them that their people at one time were barred from entering Canada they are shocked, especially the younger Chinese. Then, when I finally tell them, they are here today because of one person who changed the immigration laws they think about it over and over and over again and finally say, “freedom.”
Marvelous! To them it doesn’t matter the person’s name, only that it is synonymous with the word freedom. They are not hung up on names. To hell with Trudeau, to hell with Chretien, to hell with Harper if they have even heard of them, this is the new world order speaking. They are here and they are grateful.
So I realized I needed to write a monument to the hat lady. Here was this incredible woman who lived through an incredible time and did a lot of incredible things; suddenly I could see what was happening. The details of the events in her life far surpassed the story of Fantasy Gardens yet it was still a part of her story. Who would ever have thought that the little hat lady had lived such an incredible life.
Chapter 3 – Our Struggles!
To bring our people into the new world
“An opportunity was knocking on my door KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK and I wanted to be a part of it, a big part of it, so I taught myself how to do it. I built affordable houses: big, small, medium, red, brown, beige, I didn’t care. I developed them all over Greater Vancouver, except in Coquitlam and Maple Ridge because no one was doing it out there yet. All of a sudden, it was one-stop shopping. I would sell the property (usually to a family in those days), make a contract they could understand, hire the best builder, get a mortgage, (at a reasonable rate with TD or Prudential), employ the best tradesmen, set up an account for the client, record the finances and hope it all worked out in the end which it usually did. I was building houses, and I got my hands into everything. No one told me how to do it. Well, they may have tried, but I never listened to them. You could always find someone willing to tell you anything.
Then, as quickly as it started, it finishes. Then come the roses, the gardenias, and the chrysanthemums and tulips; then brilliant sunlight, shining through the rain and happy people smiling from head to toe as they take possession of their new homes. That’s when I truly realize I am in the housing business. Vancouver has Grouse Mountain; it has land, it has space, it has parks, it has water; it has trees. What I was in the middle of wasn’t even mentioned on the radio. There was one construction site after another as far as the eye could see. Tiny houses all lined up in a row costing under $100,000. We were all in the middle of a wild new thing, a building boom the likes of which Vancouver had never seen. Arthur Erickson, Geoffrey Massey, Fred Hollingsworth, Ned Pratt, Bing Thom and the toughest of them all, one of the fastest builders in Vancouver history – me! Faye Leung!
My first big project was developing the Canadian Pacific Railway land around Oakridge. CPR had decided,
“We’re going to subdivide our large parcel of land extending from Cambie Street to Oak Street and from 41st Avenue to 49th Avenue.” There were stories about how every day in the early 1960s I would be down at City Hall getting a building permit. That’s probably a fable because there were so many down there getting building permits that it would have been hard to pick me out. David Shepherd, CPR’s manager who was in charge of the sale and his wife, became excellent friends with us over the years.
“Which properties do you want?” David would ask. I would tell him the ones I wanted and get to work. It was me specifically though who was responsible for developing ninety percent of the land at Oakridge.
It was a family affair. Dean did the sketches, my brother Ken drew up the plans and (in addition to my other roles), I did the décor. You have to remember, in 1960, it was just us. All the other developers had millions behind them. We took them all on. It was never a question of would we succeed. It was a question of whether we could finance it all. We were like Robin Hood or Jesse James. Every time we built a house in Kitsilano, Oakridge, Fraserview, Mount Pleasant or where ever, people would say:
“Thanks for building our custom house. Because you locked our mortgage in for thirty years at six percent, the problems with interest rates that came afterward didn’t affect us.” (Remember the 20 percent interest rates of the early 1980s?) We were doing it for the little guy. We built houses down to Marine Drive even though that wasn’t CPR land. We negotiated each of those units separately. We were building all over the place. It was a busy and exciting time.
I developed a lot of houses. Then, about 1962, people began to ask,
“Where is Faye Leung?” The little guy on the street knew (10). They say she’s gone into the banking business, was the word around Chinatown. For me now, to ever go into another line of work would have been completely insane. I was doing so well in the housing business. Besides that, I already had other interests – insurance, real estate sales. But the little guy on the street said, “It’s in her blood.” He says, “She’s like a knight in shining armor, galloping off over the hill to help us all live a better, more prosperous life. I can see her now leading the peasants on a white horse.” It was the 1960s, and anything was possible.