Big Chinatown celebration for 105-year-old Calgarian

Calgary Fire Department, Calgary Flames and others come together to help isolated centenarian enjoy his special day during COVID-19 isolation

Wilson Wong (right), and his family, celebrate grandfather Justin Lam's (back) 105 birthday with a big parade in the Chinatown area. CONTRIBUTED

If you want to know the secret to longevity, you might want to ask Calgarian Justin Lam.

We’ll tell you, but…

Lam, who turned 105 Thursday, got a celebration and parade thanks to the Calgary Flames, the Calgary Fire Department and the work of his family. It was a part of the fire department’s birthday celebration program launched in April.

Lam’s grandson, Wilson Wong, more family members and others from the Chinatown community gathered on 2 Avenue SE Thursday afternoon for the surprise.

Originally, it had been booked twice – once by Wong’s wife and another by his cousin Calvin – so they merged it together for one big celebration.

“My cousin Calvin, when he booked it, they said, ‘Oh, that’s so great, 105 years old. That’s old. We’re going to see if we can get more people here,’” Wong told LiveWire Calgary.

Lam’s time in Calgary

Wong said his grandfather came to Calgary back in 1979 and lived in the southeast community of Lake Bonavista.

He lived with Wong’s aunt and was a dishwasher at a restaurant in the area called Inn on the Lake.

When Wong moved to Calgary in 1985, he also lived with his aunt and grandfather down in Lake Bonavista. Wong now is the creative director and partner in a marketing company called, Everbrave, and owner of calgarymovies.com.

“It was my grandfather, my grandmom, my great grandmother at the time. And my aunt, uncle, cousins – we were a big family,” he said.

Lam has been living in a Chinatown condo for the past 20 years. His wife died 10 years ago, so he’s living on his own, with Wong’s aunts still coming in to check in on him and cook meals.

Celebration for Chinatown

Wong said he was excited that they would be able to get such fanfare down into Chinatown for his grandfather.

He said since the first coronavirus cases the community has been dealing not only with the same isolation and business shutdown that other Calgarians have, but the racial profiling.

That was happening even before COVID-19 became a bigger issue in the city, Wong said.

Having this 105-year celebration was a nice jolt for the neighbourhood as the city starts to reopen.

“We haven’t seen this much energy pumping through Chinatown for a while,” Wong said.

“I’m super excited. I’m stoked.”

So, that secret to longevity

Harvey the Hound was out to help celebrate Justin Lam’s 105th birthday. CONTRIBUTED

Wong said prior to COVID-19, his grandfather would leave his condo, walk to meet up with his friends and play Mahjong – a Chinese tile game.

He did this daily.

“He treated it like a job,” Wong said.

“So, he’s kind of sad right now, with this whole self-isolation thing, where he can’t be playing Mahjong with his friends.”

Still, Wong’s aunts stop by to play almost daily, so his game’s still in good shape for when he can visit friends. Lam is the oldest of his friends and they aren’t too tech savvy, so connecting online isn’t really an option.

Wong said the family believes this commitment to Mahjong is the secret.

“So, we all think that Mahjong is the key to longevity for him,” Wong said.

“He plays it every single day. He’s using his bring and then he actually walks to the place to play. Every day he’s getting some exercise, he has his routine and his brain is active.”

Wong’s daughters, eight and 11 years old, are still close to their great grandfather, too. When Wong’s grandmom was still alive, the family used to visit weekly to cook dinner.

Lam’s longevity is something they all take pride in.

“They’re pretty proud. Every time they talk about their great-grandfather, that he’s 105 especially – it was amazing when he turned 100,” said Wong.

“Every year, we’re just counting our blessings.”

About Darren Krause 600 Articles
Journalist, husband, father, golfer, writer, painter, video gamer, gardener, amateur botanist, dreamer, realist... never in that order.

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