London’s Vietnamese Community
By Jane Antoniak
Duc Ngo and Family
For Long Duc Ngo, London has been a wonderful place to raise his family of six children. Some are still in secondary school while others have graduated from The University of Western Ontario and are working in professions. Two sons are teachers and a daughter is in post graduate studies to be a pharmacist. It is a dream come true for Long who first came here in 1986 to help his in-laws run a small grocery store. Now, he is the well known operator of one of London’s longest running Vietnamese restaurants, appropriately named Vietnam Restaurant, where his smiling face is a fixture to his legions of customers.
His children were educated in English and Vietnamese in London, attending public schools and also Saturday morning Vietnamese heritage language classes at St. Anne School in the north east end of the city. As well, the school holds a summer session for five weeks culminating in an annual picnic and graduation ceremony each summer at Fanshawe Park.
“I am glad to be in London. The schools and everything is so good for the kids and I love it here,” says Long. “I love my city because it is peaceful and quiet. People have an open attitude. For instance, if you want to make a turn in your cars, they stop and let you go,” he chuckles. “That is how nice people are here.”
Long himself attended English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and completed his own secondary school diploma in London by taking classes at the G. A. Wheable Centre for Adult Education (operated by the Thames Valley District School Board) and at St. Patrick Campus of the Centre for Lifelong Learning (operated by the London District Catholic School Board).
Like many Vietnamese, Long is a Buddhist. In London there are three temples where he can practice his faith: Niem Phat Duong London, 732 Lorne Ave (519-432-7828), Thien Vien Minh Dang Quang, 228 Clarence St (519-438-1390) and Chua Duc Quang at Hamilton and Eggerton Streets. As well, for Christians, there is the Vietnamese Catholic Church which operates from St. Andrews Church and offers monthly services in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese Catholic Community also operates a cultural group which elects a president and a board of directors. The entire community, of both religions, celebrates the annual New Year by renting a community hall or centre and holding a large dinner and party.
By best estimates, Vietnamese first began arriving in London and area in the mid 1970’s. Larger groups arrived in the late 70’s and early 80’s as refugees, sponsored by many Canadian churches and community groups. Since then, more family members have immigrated to London and the community now stands at about 4,000, largely settling in the Huron-Highbury area of the city. Long assists many newcomers with their preparation to become Canadian citizens, helping them with translation of citizenship questions. He became a citizen back in 1988 and urges his fellow Vietnamese to follow suit. “This is my second nationality. I feel so happy when I help people to become Canadian citizens. I urge them to try to help Canada. I believe you have to do something for this country.”
While he provides Asians and Canadians with delicious Vietnamese food, there are also other Vietnamese restaurants and many other places in London for newcomers to feel at home. There are two Asian grocery stores which carry special Vietnamese spices and cakes: Asian Grocery Store on Hamilton Road and New Kompong Spei at the corner of Huron and Clarke Side Road. As well, some London businesses offer services, like driving lessons in Vietnamese. The city has many well established nail care businesses operated by Vietnamese families providing hand and foot nail care.
Jane Antoniak is a writer and owner of Antoniak Communications Inc in London. Her column, How Did You Get Here?, ran in the London Free Press for 5 years, winning recognition from the City of London for promoting diversity and race relations.