The Chinese community in Alberta knows Brian Wong for his online videos and podcasts. For the past 21 years, he has been broadcasting and commentating on sports in Canada in Mandarin and Cantonese.
His first major assignment was the 2001 World Championships in Athletics, followed by the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship, both held in Edmonton.
Growing up in Hongkong over 30 years ago, Brian and his sister were urged by their parents to move out of the country. The first to arrive in Canada was his sister, and Brian followed a few years later. They both came here as international students.
“Our parents were very firm, they did not want us to stay in Hongkong,” Brian told Immigrant Muse.
In Hongkong, Wong had already chased his dream of becoming a sportsman. His first love was soccer, and after playing for his high school, he joined a professional club. And now, in Canada, he is a certified referee and soccer coach, and he is also a basketball and table tennis referee and umpire.
But despite his love of the sport, Wong found something was missing during his first months in Canada. Even though his new classmates were talking about sports, he did not hear them discuss soccer.
“I found Calgary a desert for soccer,” he said. The “corridor conversations” in school were all about ice hockey, Canada’s favourite sport.
Growing up, Wong had seen field Hockey games in Hongkong, but after he arrived in Canada, he became curious about ice hockey. Wanting to learn everything about this sport, he began watching games on TV and reading all about the games, the players, and the teams in the newspapers. He recalls that his teacher encouraged him to read about his interest. “It was also good for me to practice my English,” Wong said. His sister too was strict about concentrating on perfecting his English. She had told him, that during his first year in Canada he was allowed to watch only English language programs. He also said that he was very fortunate to have great teachers in Calgary.
In school, Wong says he hung around students who mainly spoke English. But on the weekend, he gravitated to a group of students from Hongkong who spoke his native tongue, Cantonese, played soccer with them, and went to Calgary’s Chinatown to eat. “The Rice dishes in Calgary’s Chinatown taste just like in Hongkong, and then I feel at home.”
But hockey continued to draw him in. He recalls buying $5 tickets for hockey games and sitting in the cheapest seats, locally known as the ‘nosebleeds,’ as they are high up in Calgary’s famous Saddledome Arena to watch the games with his friends. “This was also great to integrate into Canadian society,” he says. He remembered playing hockey in a video game his father had bought for him as a reward for getting top marks in a public examination. “I remember there was a team called Calgary Flames that was in the game,” he says.
Watching the players up close was a different experience. Wong says, “I couldn’t even skate, but to watch these guys skate, move the puck, and score was amazing! I couldn’t imagine how they do all those things at once.” Even though he still does not play the game, he says he loves the sport and knows much about it.
Now the “Chinese face” of Calgary Flames, Brian says his chance came when the team went to China in 2018. The tour was to promote the team to the Chinese community in Calgary. The Flames were looking for someone from Calgary, spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese, and loved hockey. When they asked around the community, “they were told you need to meet Brian Wong”, Wong said.
Eventually, Wong did meet the Vice President of the Flames, and in August 2018, he was on the chartered aircraft carrying the Flames and their managers, coaches, and media team off to China. “It was a dream for me,” he says.
In China, Wong found a new developing interest in ice hockey, mainly because Beijing will host the 2022 winter Olympics and the home teams automatically qualify for the final round of any tournament. Wong and the Flames spent time talking to local coaches, players, and parents of kids who want to learn the game. He found that Chinese parents were willing to pay for their children to learn hockey.
Energy companies based in Calgary and China are promoting hockey to build bridges between the two countries, says Wong. That is why the National Hockey League (NHL) has been promoting the game on the mainland since 2017. Big-time NHL teams have played in China, and Wong found the rinks and facilities of a very high standard.
Wong made several videos with the Flames in China for his fans in Canada and around the world.
Now back home in Calgary, he produces regular videos promoting the Flames. He also has podcasts talking about other sports on his FeverSports online channel. “I use a mixture of English, Mandarin, and Cantonese,” says Wong. “Sometimes it is hard for someone new to understand the plays, what off-side means, and what icing means. They also don’t understand body checks and why players fight.” He tries to use Chinese terms drawn from soccer to describe the plays. “Now I see a greater interest among the young people; they discuss the games and even analyze them.”
Although the number of actual Chinese Canadians playing hockey has not increased, some smaller amateur groups are playing the game. Many new immigrants are concerned about the game as there are frequent injuries, Wong explains.
Despite efforts to popularise the game amongst the Chinese community, it has not yet caught on as much as it has amongst the Punjabi community, which hosts a Hockey Night in Canada in Panjabi. Many believe it has been easier to draw South Asians to ice hockey as they are familiar with field hockey, a popular sport on the sub-continent.
But for Wong, a non-playing hockey lover, the prime Canadian game helped him integrate into Canadian society.
Hockey culture, he says, “goes beyond the stadium.”