In a Wong family that would accomplish a festival of firsts in Canada, Mary Wong established a family first on the day that she was born as the first Canadian-born child in her family.
Her father, Lem Wong, had come to Canada in 1886, travelling from China to Vancouver at the age of 15. After making his way to Ontario in 1903 and setting up a laundry in London, Wong finally settled down and began to focus on growing his family. It was important to him that his children integrate well into the local community, especially considering that he and his wife, Toye Chin, were the first Chinese immigrant family to settle in London.
When Mary Wong grew up and enrolled at Western she would make sure that her father’s wishes came true, and then some. In her six years at the University she served on Western’s Women’s Athletic Committee and played a number of sports including soccer and softball. But it was her exceptional basketball play that earned her the most praise. It didn’t take long before Mary proved to be a star for the Mustangs team, establishing enough respect in her first four years to be named captain for her last two. She led the team to two Bronze Baby championships in 1936 and 1937, scoring 20 points in the 1937 championship game to earn the title of most outstanding player of the series.
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Although there aren’t many accounts of Wong’s play from her time with the Mustangs, due mostly to the under-coverage of women’s athletics, the few that we do have paint an exceptional picture of her athletic ability. Below is an excerpt from a report on her performance in the 1937 championship game:
“Mary Wong, the hawk-eyed sharp shooter of ’37, sniped them from all angles to score 20 points in the final game of the Bronze Baby tournament in Montreal. Mary has played with the Senior girls’ team for years and has always been the star forward and the most reliable shot on the squad.”
A report from Gazette in March 1937 provides another favourable account of her play:
“Working her plays like lightning and finding the basket with consistency, light and agile Mary Wong, the Chinese girl with plenty of basketball brains and clever with her feet and hands, was easily the outstanding and most interesting player in the entire series.”
Mary was on the women’s soccer team in 1935 and again in 1936 alongside her sister Clara. Their younger sibling, Gretta, also followed in Mary’s footsteps, playing on the basketball team in the early 1940s when intervarsity competition was suspended due to World War II. Gretta ended up graduating in law and was the first Chinese Canadian woman ever to be called to the bar in 1946. Mary had already set a similar precedent; after graduating in 1937 as the gold medalist of Western’s medical class, she continued on to become the first female Chinese physician in Canada. Clara also chose to become a medical doctor while a fourth sister, Esther, would later obtain her PhD in biochemistry.
During her six years at the school, Mary she spent a large chunk of time as the medical representative to the WAC. After she finished graduate medical school at Western she continued to be active at the school and in the organization, serving as both honourary vice president and president at separate times. In her personal life she and her husband, Ross Mark, adopted two Children; Gerry, who was from Toronto and Nancy, who was from Hong Kong. Their decision to adopt Nancy made them the first Canadians ever to adopt a child from Hong Kong.
In the end, the most impressive thing about Mary Wong’s life may not be that she did things first, but that she did everything with a level of determination and quality that was over and above what was expected of anyone. At a time when women’s athletics were beginning to break through gender barriers, Mary served as a role model for future athletes and brought attention to not only the women’s basketball team but to women’s intercollegiate athletics as a whole and, because of this, her contribution to women’s athletics at Western cannot be overstated.