Hok Yat Louie came from a poor Chinese peasant family in Du Tou village in Canton Province, now called Zhongshan. In 1896, at age 21, he set out for Canada, borrowing $50 to pay the head tax instituted by the Canadian government to discourage Chinese immigration. After toiling at a series of manual labour jobs, he began to farm on a plot he leased on what is now Marine Drive in Burnaby. His persistence paid off and he prospered over time; and eventually ventured into opening his first store in 1903, the Kwong Chong Company, selling seed, fertilizer and wholesale groceries in Vancouver’s Chinatown. In 1927 Mr. Louie renamed and incorporated the company to H.Y. Louie Company Limited.
Mr. Louie embodied what we think of when we refer to someone being a “natural entrepreneur.” He overcame extraordinary circumstances and an impoverished beginning to launch some of Canada’s most successful and enduring businesses. Not only did he succeed, he accomplished all this during a time of institutional racism when the Chinese Exclusion Act stopped Chinese from coming to Canada from 1923 to 1947.
Building community in his adopted country was so important to Mr. Louie that he paid the Head Tax for many newly arrived immigrants to enable them to stay and prosper in Canada. He became a leader in this burgeoning Chinese community, acting as a mentor and trusted advisor. His belief in being a full member of the community was imprinted on his children and each contributed a great deal in time, expertise or tangible philanthropy. He considered service to his community at large to be his duty; a passion and core value that has acted as a legacy for succeeding generations of his family and their employees.
After his death in 1934, his four sons managed the family business guided by the principles and values of their father. Eventually, Tong Louie took over and in 1955 they acquired the IGA franchise for BC and in 1976 purchased London Drugs. The company now owns some of the most recognized companies in the province, including a charter airline and a Relais and Chateau designated Resort. Despite its diverse interests, it is still very much a family business with the fourth generation now in place. The entire group of companies is still driven by the same values its founder lived and expressed so eloquently.