Our banner representing United Steelworkers Locals 4488 and 2771 was donated to us by Hank Wong, an important figure in both the history of USW Local 4488 and Chinese-Canadian history.
In October of 1927, General Steel Wares was born through the merger of the McClary Manufacturing Company of London with five other steel companies in Ontario and Quebec. McClary’s had a large complex on both sides of Adelaide Street in London. The Adelaide plant continued to operate after the merger to create General Steel Wares. It shut down in the eighties, and has since been demolished.
Hank Wong was born in London, Ontario in 1919. He went to work at General Steel Wares in London as a lab technician after his return from service in World War 2. After being rejected by the Navy in 1940 because of his race, he was recruited to join Force 136, a branch of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Based in Japanese-occupied Southeast Asia, Force 136 were to support and train local resistance movements to sabotage Japanese supply lines and equipment as part of Operation Oblivion. Wong was one of 13 Chinese individuals from Canada who were recruited to Force 136, sent for special training first in British Columbia, and then in Australia.
When the USA took charge of combat in the Pacific, Operation Oblivion was cancelled, leaving Chinese Canadians from Force 136 to return home on their own. Many, including Wong, had to work aboard cargo ships to earn passage back to Canada. Many of Chinese descent who served in the war believed that their return from service would lead to them being granted citizenship, but upon returning to Canada, the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in effect. The Act was eventually repealed in 1947.
Hank Wong was instrumental in organizing employees of General Steel Wares. When he realized that the company paid women in the front office inferior wages and fired them if they became pregnant, he is said to have helped organize them into what became Local 4488. From 1972 to 1983, he was a full-time auditor for the union.
In an obituary published in the Globe and Mail newspaper after Wong passed away in 2019, Leo Gerard, former international president of the United Steelworkers said:
“Coming out of the war, [Hank] felt a real sense of injustice for the Chinese community, and I think that played into his desire to organize workers.”
Clement, Catherine. 2019. Chinese Canadians of Force 136. The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Hunter, Paul. 2018. Hank Wong is the last surviving member of an elite group of Chinese-Canadian soldiers who, according to the government, never existed. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/hank-wong-is-the-last-surviving-member-of-an-elite-group-of-chinese-canadian-soldiers/article_4fd2ab17-d5c9-5cb3-9c28-1cd93960bad5.html
Veteran Stories: Henry Albert Frank Wong. The Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society. https://www.ccmms.ca/veteran-stories/army/henry-albert-hank-wong/
Hank Wong – Chinese Canadian Veterans. Veterans Affairs Canada. https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/those-who-served/chinese-canadian-veterans/profile/wongh