Jean Lumb

Jean Lumb was a restauranteur, and activist. Born in Nanaimo, BC, to Cantonese immigrants, Jean Lumb left school and began working at the age of 12 to support her family. She moved to Toronto as a sixteen-year-old, and opened a grocery store in 1936. Lumb became a passionate cultural and social justice advocate for the Chinese community in Toronto and across the country. In 1957, she was the only woman in a delegation of 40 people who met with Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to lobby for family reunification after the appeal of the Chinese Immigration Act (Exclusion Act). In 1959, Lumb and her husband opened Kwong Chow Restaurant in Chinatown. She co-owned and operated the restaurant for 23 years, during which time she continued to advocate for her community, and strove to blend Canadian and Chinese cultures.

Fruit store, age 17 - courtesy of Arlene Chan

Fruit store, age 17 – courtesy of Arlene Chan

A member of the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism, Jean Lumb also founded and chaired the “Save Chinatown” campaign to protect businesses in Toronto’s first Chinatown, on Elizabeth and Dundas Streets, threatened with demolition. In 1976, she became the first restaurateur and the first Chinese-Canadian woman appointed to the Order of Canada.

As part of the digital exhibit, we are pleased to include this video of historian Arlene Chan, Jean Lumb’s daughter, talking about her parents and their struggles. The video was produced as part of Heritage Toronto’s Diversity Stories.


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