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The Chinese Nationalist League of Canada and Lee Kepment Memorandum of Agreement
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Lee Kepment was born in China on October 23rd, 1898 in present day [台山 Toisan/Taishan] county. His father, Lee Thung, was a prominent Vancouver businessman, labour contractor, and property investor. He played an important role in the building of Vancouver’s Chinatown and its Lee Family Association.
In 1911, Kepment and his mother journeyed to Canada to join his father. As members of a merchant family, they were exempt from paying the head tax.
Kepment worked in his father’s business, the Lee Yune Company, until it closed in the late 1920s around the beginning of the Great Depression.
From 1919 until his death, Kepment lived at 1576 Kitchener Street in Vancouver. His first wife was Low Yoke Lan, and together they had four children: Phyllis, Ruth, Lillian, and Harden.
After his first wife died, Kepment married Canadian-born Irene Kee (known as Irene Lee after marriage) in 1931. With Irene he had two more children: Elizabeth and Ian.
Kepment worked as a court interpreter. He also became general manager of the Kam Yen Jam Chinese Sausage factory on Keefer Street in the 1930s/40s. Today, it is one of North America’s most popular brand of Chinese sausages.
With a large family, connections, wealth, and education, Lee Kepment rose to become one of Vancouver’s most prominent Chinese Canadian leaders during the mid-1900s.
During the Great Depression, he was active in raising money for the Welfare Federation of B.C., supporting the unemployed and needy of all communities.
A long-standing supporter of China’s Kuomintang (Nationalist) government, he was chosen by party branches across the country as Canada’s overseas Chinese delegate. He arrived in Chungking/Chongqing [重慶] for the Nationalist congress of 1939 right in the midst of the war with Japan. During his time there, the city was severely damaged by the Japanese air bombers, but Lee managed to return home to Canada safely.
Kepment also did fundraising for both the Chinese government and Canadian government, helping the latter through encouraging purchases of Victory Loans as president of the Chinese Merchants Association. He was a supporter of the United Church, active in Vancouver and in China.
After leaving Kam Yen Jam in 1949, Lee worked as a self-employed businessman until his death, supported by diverse business, wholesale, and property holdings.
Politically, Kepment was a prominent member of Canada’s Liberal Party leadership in Vancouver, alongside important civil rights figures. Kepment’s activism and support was crucial to the party’s electoral success in the post-Exclusion era, helping to unseat Conservative Douglas Jung in 1962.
Due to his high visibility and political skills, Kepment often had the chance to champion the cause of Chinese Canadians to diverse audiences. His family kept a speech he gave to the Royal Bank of Canada, a business he had supported and recommended to peers for much of his career. The speech outlined the history of the Chinese in Canada and the negative impacts of the head tax and exclusion.
Kepment died in 1976 and was buried alongside his wife in Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver. Many of his papers, along with those of his father, were donated by his son Ian Lee to UBC Rare Books and Special Collections in 1982.
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