Obituary of John June Ying Leung

Obituary of John June Ying Leung
Our condolences to this family for their loss. John Leung contributed so much to the Cumberland community and his life was inspirational.
December 1st, 1932 – January 16th, 2024
Loving, generous, energetic, resourceful, and fun. John Leung was our father, our grandfather, our great grandfather. He passed away peacefully on January 16, 2024, in Burnaby, BC. He had enjoyed a busy holiday season of get-togethers with family and friends, not to mention celebrating his 91st birthday. He was predeceased by his parents, Annie and Gang Leung, and by his sister Joyce. Two baby sisters died when he was very young. He lost the love of his life, our Mother, May Suey Low Leung, in 2006. John will forever be missed by his four children Colleen [Bennett], Gary [Susan], Allison [Steve] and Terry [Louise]. He was Grandpa, Papa John, or Gong Gong to ten: Roberta, Madeline, Sophie, Mari, Cory, Shaelynn, Elliot, Danielle, Rai-Ann and Alana. They adored him and he returned the love. In 2022, John was delighted to meet his great grandchild, Enzo.
John was the third of seven surviving children, growing up in the village of Cumberland on Vancouver Island. In those days, most Chinese in Cumberland lived in Chinatown, near the coal mining camps. Annie and Gang started Leung’s Grocery in 1929. They were the first Chinese to open a business in so-called uptown. All of Annie and Gang’s children worked in the store and on their farm in Happy Valley, a few miles away. They relied on each other to get through hard times. Family came first. John believed in family. He acted on this belief his entire life.
At age 15, John was chosen by his parents to manage Leung’s Grocery. He dropped out of high school to become a businessman. As it turned out, he was very good at it. John and May were young parents who started married life with next to nothing. Together, they built a thriving grocery store. It was the heart of the community. Although he never finished school, he strived to learn new skills and improve himself. Every day, travelling salesmen who brought soap and tinned peas also gave him news of the world. John became a major employer to neighbourhood teens. He taught them life skills such as how to make deliveries in the truck and how to make change at the cash register. Of course, all four of their children worked at the store as they grew up. John and May were devoted to improving life for their children. They extended that commitment to the entire village. John served as treasurer for the Cumberland Chamber of Commerce for decades. He volunteered wherever his talents were needed. If anyone needed a hand painting the recreation centre or clearing weeds or raising money for seniors’ housing, John would be the first to step forward.
He single-handedly maintained the grounds of the Chinese cemetery. His own grandfather Low Hock Shun is buried there. He was proud of his Chinese heritage. He was also a proud Canadian. His enthusiasm inspired everyone in the village. He was named Outstanding Citizen in 1991.
John was a Master Recycler and Re-user. He would put aside scrap wood and bits of wire, plastic and paper for the magnificent floats he, his siblings and their families would build for the annual Cumberland Empire Day parades. From all accounts, the floats were memorable highlights every May. One year, they made a Chinese pagoda, another year it was the Flintstones theme. He could free hand draw signs to advertise the specials on offer at Leung’s Grocery in Cumberland and Leung’s Grocery in Courtenay which was operated by his brother Norman. He was a self-taught carpenter, plumber, and electrician. He could fix just about anything.
When his beloved wife, May, became sick, John was her primary caregiver. Being a resilient, positive, guy, he eventually learned to live and thrive on his own after he recovered from May’s passing. He found purpose with other volunteers in Cumberland. He learned he could use his quiet determination to get things done as a senior citizen.
To no one’s surprise, John sketched a picnic shelter on a scrap of paper and was able to raise money to build it near the old Chinatown by 2011. The village rallied around him and his merry group of active seniors. Charm, enthusiasm and determination went a long way to help them sell hundreds of special T-shirts.
In 2012, John was recognized as a Super Volunteer. He received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award, a huge honour for a self-educated man.
In 2014, he made it his mission to keep the Chinese Cemetery open for future burials when the village was drawing up a new Community Plan. With the help of a surveyor, John located many grave sites he remembers from his boyhood helping a Buddhist priest. The provincial government recognized John as an expert witness. The map convinced the village to offer protection for the cemetery and to acknowledge that all the descendants of his grandfather Low Hock Shun, one of the original owners, were in fact owners of the cemetery.
In 2019, the story of his efforts to preserve his family’s history went all the way to New York City. The Museum of Chinese In America included Cumberland Chinese Cemetery, John’s lifelong project, in an exhibition called “Gathering: Collecting & Documenting Chinese American History”. Unfortunately, he never made it to New York. Instead, he went to China twice; once with May and once more after her passing. In a village of southern China, John finally understood the sacrifices his father made by moving to Canada in 1914. He was able to take his soul mate May back to her childhood home in another village. It was her only visit after more than 50 years.
Dad eventually moved to the Lower Mainland to be closer to his children. Before that, he had never lived anywhere except Cumberland. He started writing about his life during his retirement. His writing picked up steam when he left the Comox Valley. He would always say: Oh, I have a lot of stories!
He faced some health challenges in his final decade. But he rallied. He learned to walk again. He kept writing, filling pages and notebooks for us to read.
We are grateful that we were able to spend so much time with him; to listen to his stories, to enjoy the wooden shelves, gliding chairs, shortbread, pound cake and jam he made over the years for us. He is a hard act to follow!
A service will be held for John Leung on Saturday, January 27 at Piercys in Courtenay. 11 a.m. John will be laid to rest at the Cumberland Chinese Cemetery. A reception to follow at the Cumberland Cultural Centre 2:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in John’s memory to the Cumberland Museum and Archives. Go to



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