By Gordon Mcintyre, Vancouver Sun |
Queenie Choo has never sailed in her life, but she’s now a captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.
Honorary captain, that is, of HMCS Vancouver, a Halifax-class frigate the Canadian navy has sailed since 1993. Choo became the first Chinese-Canadian woman to receive the title.
“I’m delighted and honoured,” said Choo, CEO of SUCCESS, a not-for-profit immigrant settlement and integration organization based in Chinatown. “I’m not a real captain. They don’t actually let me sail it.
“It’s because of my work and also my passion in supporting the values of diversity and inclusion. That’s been my pursuit, to ensure we uphold the values that our country embraces.”
Choo was an immigrant herself.
She came to Canada as a 23-year-old in 1980 when Alberta sent out a call for nurses. It was Dec. 14, it was Edmonton, it was minus-30C outside the airport, minus-45C if you included the howling wind chill. Colder than the bone-chilling British winters she endured while studying nursing, and far, far colder than her subtropical home of Hong Kong.
It was a shock, but one she soon got over.
“Coming to Canada has been a very, very phenomenal experience for me,” Choo said.
Her father died when she was three, leaving her mother to raise her and her older brother, working in a garment factory to put food on the table, bringing little Queenie with her some days because paying a babysitter was financially out of reach.
It was a hardscrabble time in Hong Kong in the 1950s, she said, and Choo got work in high school tutoring math and science.
She wanted to go to medical school, but couldn’t stand the thought of her mom continuing to scramble for money, so instead she went to the U.K. to study nursing.
When she arrived in Edmonton, there were no support services for immigrants, something that imprinted on her mind.
“And I could speak the language, and I had employment as soon as I landed,” she said. “Imagine somebody who came to Canada without the language skills, facing multiple cultural barriers, employment challenges.
“Just imagine those folks who come to Canada without help and their family responsibilities.”
Choo learned to ice skate. She learned to ice fish. She became a huge hockey fan and a Canadian citizen.
She got her Master’s in nursing at the University of Alberta, married and raised a family in Edmonton, rising to executive director of continuing care integrated services for Alberta Health Services in 2009.
In 2012, she accepted the CEO position with SUCCESS.
“I wasn’t looking for work, it was a big decision,” she said. “I came to SUCCESS because of the values of diversity and inclusion and to serve the country.”
SUCCESS (United Chinese Community Enrichment Social Services) was established in 1973 as a social services agency that provides settlement, language training, employment, family and youth counselling, business and economic development, seniors care, housing, and community involvement.
Inside its headquarters on West Pender Street, the gymnasium offers a place for seniors to drop by and play Ping-Pong, a place to hold community events and public forums.
It is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the street.