Francette & Jessie (part 1)

During my last visit to Montreal, Canada, I made it a duty to pay a visit to two of my mother’s cousins who now lived in Canada. It was a very emotional visit both for me and for Jessie who was a  close person to my mother. More than sisters they were confidents to each other in their childhood and youth.

Mum had the misfortune to have been born in a poor family whilst her cousin Jessie was born and bred in an endowed s family. That was their fates. In the early twenties, just past the First World War, Mauritius then started to pick up economically. The steam ships restarted operating to link the various ports of the world. Port Louis was an essential halt port for the steamers serving the Eastern countries, namely China, the British colony of Hong Kong, Dutch colonies of Indonesia, the Malayan states and South Africa. Bold Chinese traders had risked their lives earlier a few decades before saw their lots improving.

Chan Chong Kwan the farther of Jessie was one of them. He moved to Mauritius as a boy of 15 around the turn of the century. He ran a retail small shop in Roches Noires area after having spent his years of apprenticeship with a prosperous Chinese a wholesaler of the capital.  Some years later having saved some money he decided to move from the country side back  to town to raise a family. Young Chong Kwan was a smart entrepreneur; he not only continued to maintain the countryside retail shop, he set up a wholesale shop and at the same time started with a wine factory. He married Germaine, daughter of Olezia Ah Fan and of Joseph Leong Son.

Unlike her cousin,  Francette, my mother  was orphan before she was born, Grand Pa, Emmanuel Ah Lim who was an employee of a Chinese gambling house, died leaving his eldest son Ignace aged 14 to look after the family of seven children. Grand Ma Anna daughter of Josephine Hitie and Mr Ahfan earned painfully a living by sewing shirts from her home to supply shops.

Solidarity amongst the members of the family prevailed. The Chong Kwan, the well to do, supported the rest of the family with clothes and in hard time money for food. On weekends and school holiday periods, the Ah Lim children stay over at the Chong Kwan in their large and spacious villa at Edith Cavell street.

Both cousins, Francette & Jessie were very close. Francette had to undergo the hardship described in one of my pervious blog to marry her love France . Hardly Jessie on the other hand was seduced by the intellectual brilliance of a newly landed scholar to the Chinese School and married Siao in grand regalia. However, few months after the wedding, Siao took the steamer back to China leaving Jessie in pregnancy. Daniel, his only son was born and for over decades, he never knew his father. Fate dictated that one cousin had difficulty in marrying and later had a harmonious family life whilst the other after a wonderful marriage had a broken family life with the absence of her husband. Indeed Siao will reappear few decades after.


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