A photo of James Eng in Toronto taken recently by one of his old friends from Rocanville while visiting Eng.

Eng pledges $20,000 to Rocanville hall

August 21, 2015 1:42 pm
Kara Kinna

Former Rocanville resident, James Eng, is now a successful accountant living in Toronto. He says Rocanville gave his family their start in a new country. Now he wants to give back.

A lot has changed for James Eng and his family.

Today, Eng is a successful accountant working in Toronto.

But when he moved to Rocanville from Hong Kong with his family in 1969, at the age of nine, he could hardly speak any English and his family didn’t have a lot of resources.

“At that time Hong Kong had four million people, and we moved to a town of 1,000, so it was quite a culture shock,” says Eng.

“We had the typical immigrant story. We ran the local restaurant that was there. Everybody was just so good. From when I was nine years old until I finished high school, all my years I spent there, I have nothing but fond, fond memories of how the town treated us and just the time and experience I had there.

“I have always felt that both the town and people opened up to a new immigrant family.”

It is for that reason that Eng has decided to pledge $20,000 to the new Rocanville hall that is being built. Eng says that the town helped him and his family get started and established in a new and foreign country, and now he wants to give back to the community that gave his family that boost.

After coming to Rocanville at age nine, Eng stayed until he graduated high school there in 1977.

He still remembers the care and consideration that was given to him at school and by the community.

“Being an immigrant, things were a little bit different. In school when we came, my English was prettywell non existent. But coming from Hong Kong my math was quite good. I still remember my Grade 4 teacher, Mrs. Arnold, she said to me ‘there’s no point in you taking math because you are way ahead of everybody else.’ So she actually spent every single day preparing a private English lesson for me.

“I listened to a tape recorder to improve my English at the back of the class when we were doing regular math class.

“This is how much time and dedication the teachers put in all throughout high school—the warmth that we got.”

Eng says it was easy for him to get involved in the community and in local sports.

“Being in a small town you don’t really have to be that good to be on all the sports teams but you are always welcome. I played hockey, I curled, I was on the baseball team, volleyball, basketball—the all inclusiveness of it just really impressed me.”

He says the town also supported his family’s business—the Apollo restaurant which still exists today.

“In ‘69 when we came that’s when one of the Apollo missions went off, so we thought that would be a great name. It’s great to hear it’s still around.

“In every turn the community has really supported us well. First of all they supported our restaurant all these years. We could not have thrived in Toronto without those initial years building up our financial resources in a small town.

“This is why we have to remember. You read a lot of stories about how Saskatchewan is losing population and a lot of communities are dying off. I though this is a perfect opportunity to put something back into the community. With a facility like that it will help attract other surrounding areas’ activities and hopefully the town will be around for a long, long time.”

Eng says he remembers his high school graduation being held in the old Legion Hall in Rocanville.

“Our high school graduation was in the Legion hall. When Herb (Park) told me about this opportunity to build a new hall, I thought there’s no better reflection of my appreciation to say I think that is great for the community. It’s something that is good for everybody and I was more than willing to help out in the cause.”

Eng’s family left Rocanville and moved to Toronto in 1976 with Eng staying behind to finish his Grade 12 year in Rocanville.

“I graduated in 1977 and then when I graduated I moved to Toronto. That’s where my family was already settled. Mom and Dad sold the restaurant one year before I left. I actually finished high school by myself in Rocanville. I rented the old Anderson house—$120 a month back in those days,” he says with a laugh.

Eng still maintains connections to Rocanville to this day, keeping in touch with a number of his old classmates.

“I had a unique situation. I had more classmates than the regular person,” says Eng. “When I first came, because my English was not good, I was put behind two classes. And I worked hard, so literally I went from Grade 6 to Grade 8 to Grade 10.

“So I got to be friends with my three different groups of classmates. A lot of times you grow up with the same people from Grade 1 to Grade 12. I had this opportunity to be classmates with three different years.

What kind of connection does he still have to Rocanville?

“My connection is that I still keep in touch with a handful of friends there.

“What I found is that when you make friends when you are young—when everybody kind of doesn’t have anything —that friendship is much more lasting. Being in Toronto, in a big city, being in business, you make friends now, but it’s a different type of friendship—the type of friendship where you think ‘does this guy want to get to know me because he wants to kind of know my connections to get this and that.’ But back in those days it was just pure friendship. We did lots of crazy things together. And that kind of bond you create, that has lasted all these years.”

Eng also came back for the town’s centennial celebration and brought his son.

“I made sure I brought my son out to kind of let him know how it was back in my day, just to show him that you guys have things a little bit easier now. But it wasn’t always like that. We used to have to work over our lunch break. From school we’d go to the restaurant (to work) and that’s the busiest time.

“There was my brother and I. My brother worked in the kitchen and I worked out front. Most of the time we didn’t even get lunch. We’d be busy, but that’s just the way it is. You have a family business and we’d be grateful that people would come in and give us business.

“I just have a very overall fond, fond memory of the time I spent in Rocanville.”

When Eng found out about the new hall that Rocanville plans to build, he knew he wanted to help.

“Four years ago I went back and I saw the school had some needs and I gave a small donation to the school. But I thought that is not quite reflective of my appreciation,” he says.

“Herb explained the whole budget for the project, and in the overall scheme of things $20,000 is still not a big amount compared to the overall cost.

“I thought ‘I’m doing fairly well.’ There are lots of charities that knock on your door and ask you for this or that. But I know in this situation it goes right into bricks and mortar, something that I can look at in the future and say ‘you know what, that is the community that I grew up with, how good they were to me and I’m just happy to be able to contribute something back.’

“It feels good because I have the ability to do it. Rocanville has given me the opportunity to get to where I am. I’m an accountant with a practice in Toronto. I’ve done fairly well over the years. You’ve got to remember your roots. You’ve got to remember where you came from.”

Eng says he hopes that others who benefitted from living or working in the Rocanville area in the past will consider donating to the project as well.

“Rocanville has a mine with a lot of people who have come in and out. Some of these executives, some of these people that have done really well while they were here, we should tap into them and say ‘remember those days when you were here and how you got your start?’ This is a time to really reflect on that, and there’s no more worthy project than this community hall that’s being built.

“I’m trying to encourage not just people from the town but other expats who have lived there and moved away, for them to feel that Rocanville has done something for you and this is an opportunity now for you to do something for Rocanville.”

Eng says he was happy to hear that most people in town voted yes to the new hall in the referendum held on August 4.

“I’m so glad that that went through. Herb emailed me right away and said ‘great news!’ And that’s when I made the pledge, as soon as I heard that went through.”

Eng says he wants to come back to see the new hall once it’s built.

“I told them I would love to have some kind of reunion for our high school—it’s going to be coming up to 40 years. I thought with this community hall it might be a great opportunity to do this.”