Canada 150: Milton Wong was one of B.C.’s greatest benefactors

March 3, 2017

By Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun |

To mark Canada’s 150th birthday, we are counting down to Canada Day with profiles of 150 noteworthy British Columbians.

There are twice as many people with the surname Wong — an estimated 60 million globally — as there are Canadians, but this son of a tailor from Chinatown was one of a kind. Admired by just about everybody, Milton K. Wong was a man with the shrewd acumen of a financial wizard, the kindness, compassion and generosity of a true humanitarian, and he saw the big picture like a visionary philosopher.

And, recalls his niece, Joanna, in Wong Family Feast, a warm narrative that tells her family’s rich history with a combination of recipes, recollections and reminiscences, he baked a stupendous apple pie. It was so popular that he could — and did — raffle them to raise money for charities.

Born in Vancouver in 1939 to Wong Kung Lai and Chu Man Wong, he was the eighth of nine children. His father came to Canada in 1908, compelled to pay the discriminatory $500 head tax for which Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of the nation in 2006. Milton’s dad opened a shop he named Modernize Tailors in 1913. Sons Bill and Jack took it over when they discovered engineering degrees from UBC weren’t sufficient to qualify them for work at a time of racial prejudice.

As a boy, Milton helped out delivering The Province newspapers, graduated from Vancouver Tech, and went on to study economics and political science at the University of B.C. Upon graduating in 1963, he moved to Toronto but soon returned to Vancouver to manage investments for National Trustco Inc. He launched his own investment firm, M.K. Wong & Associates, parlayed its assets from $40 million to $3.5 billion in under a decade, and sold to HSBC Bank Canada Ltd.

He continued investing in medical research, raised $100 million for the B.C. Cancer Agency, raised funds for Nobel Prize winner Michael Smith’s research, for the YWCA, the Salvation Army, Science World, and helped found organizations as diverse as the Laurier Institution and Vancouver’s Dragon Boat Festival. He served two terms as chancellor at Simon Fraser University and was a co-founder of an investment management program at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. His community service ranged from working with the David Suzuki Foundation on climate change to helping facilitate First Nations land claims, including the Nisga’a Treaty in 1998.

Wong received many public service awards and received the Order of Canada and the Order of B.C. He died of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 31, 2011.

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