Former Vietnamese refugee returns to his Canadian “hometown”


By Ron Giofu

When Quyen Kam Phung fled Vietnam in the late 1970’s, he would eventually find his way to Canada.

While Toronto was his first official stop, Quyen would soon be sponsored by St. John the Baptist Church, the Basilian Fathers and Father Vincent Thompson and adopt Amherstburg as his first Canadian hometown.

Quyen was one of thousands of people that fled Vietnam after the Vietnam War, after South Vietnam was taken over by communist North Vietnam.

Quyen Kam Phung (bottom row, centre, holding 1979 Windsor Star newspaper article) returned to Amherstburg Dec. 2. Amherstburg was his first hometown in Canada after he fled Vietnam in the late 1970’s. He originally stayed at St. John the Baptist Church and revisited the church recently with his family and reconnected with the church community. Bottom row (from left): daughter Winnie Phung, wife Mary Phung, Quyen, Father Brian Jane, son-in-law James Hiu. Back row (from left): associate pastor Father Seejo John, Mary Ferguson, Bill Ferguson.

“The North came and took control and all of our lives changed,” he said.

Quyen explained that his father owned a painting machine but that was soon taken from him and Quyen went to a friend’s farm and became a beekeeper.

“Then I got a chance to escape,” he said, noting that he actually escaped Vietnam twice. He said his boat was designed for 170 people but actually had 300 on it.

After becoming what was known as one of the “boat people,” his second attempt at escaping saw him flee to Malaysia. His original choices to go were Australia or the United States but it was Canada he would end up in and he arrived 40 years ago. Many refugees didn’t want to go to Canada, believing it was too far and too cold.

As it turned out, Quyen is happy where he landed.

“I’m so lucky,” he said.

Quyen lived 11 months in the rectory of St. John the Baptist Church. He recalled his first job was at a farm even though he didn’t know how to use the farming tools. His first pay cheque was for $70 and he used some of that for medications he sent back to family in Vietnam.

Now a real estate area in the Scarborough area, Quyen said his first job saw him hitch hike back and forth to work.

“I didn’t need a car. I hitch hiked,” he said. “Every day, someone gave me a ride.”

Quyen Kam Phung looks out of the window of the room he stayed in when he lived at St. John the Baptist Church. He came to Canada from Vietnam in 1979.

Other jobs locally saw him work as a janitor as well as at Canadian Tire. He also befriended the Delisle family, whom he said now have moved to British Columbia.

Quyen, joined by members of his family, toured St. John the Baptist Church Sunday morning and he saw his old bedroom in the rectory. While he has been back in the 40 years he has been in Canada, it was his first visit to town since 1992.

“This is my hometown,” he said. “Amherstburg is my first hometown in Canada.”

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