School trustee Wang named one of Canada's top immigrants

Burnaby school trustee James Wang has been named one of the recipients of Canadian Immigrant Magazine
Burnaby school trustee James Wang has been named one of the recipients of Canadian Immigrant Magazine's RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrants awards.
— image credit: Sandra Minarik/Contributed

When James Wang came to Canada from China in 1996, he was a fish out of water in both cultures.

He couldn't speak English well, so he tried his luck finding work in Vancouver's Chinatown.

"But if I wanted to find a labour job I had to speak Cantonese," recalled Wang, now 45 and a Burnaby school trustee.

Wang has been named one of the recipients of this year's RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrants awards presented by Canadian Immigrant magazine.

Originally from Xi'an, home of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors, he was one of the first groups of immigrants coming out of mainland China. Today, Mandarin is much more widely spoken in Metro Vancouver. Not so then.

And like most skilled immigrants, his credentials as an architect in China weren't recognized here. Married with a one-year-old son, he didn't have the option to spend years redoing his training.

So after stints delivering newspapers and working as a tour guide to get by, he eventually joined his brother's company, Canadian Overseas Holdings.

Initially an immigration services company, it has since expanded to travel and other businesses. Wang is now its vice-president.

His work helping new immigrants settle into Canada led him to become active in the community and then in politics. He joined the Burnaby Citizens Association and in 2008 and 2011 was elected to Burnaby school board.

With one son graduating this year from Burnaby North secondary and headed to UCLA, and his second son in Grade 11, he'll be running for city council in November's civic election.

He believes one of his strengths lies in acting as a bridge between the new immigrant communities and local government. And he hopes he can inspire others like him to get involved.

"I hope people can serve in the community and just think of Canada like our new homeland. I think that's very important."

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