Dr. Joseph Du remembered as selfless advocate for community, revitalizing Winnipeg's Chinatown

Dr. Joseph Du remembered as selfless advocate for community, revitalizing Winnipeg's Chinatown

Dr. Joseph Du, a longtime community leader in Winnipeg who advocated for social justice and whose vision helped build the city's Chinatown district, is being remembered as someone who gave everything of himself.

He died on March 19 at the age of 83.

"I trusted him with my life and the life of my family, and he did the same thing to me. We were very close friends," said Philip Lee, Manitoba's former lieutenant governor and someone who knew Du for nearly 50 years.

It was those two men who came together in the 1980s to lead the effort to revitalize Chinatown, which was little more than a handful of restaurants at the time.

They formed the Winnipeg Chinatown Development Corp. and over the next decade, Du lobbied governments for funding to build the Chinese garden and the gate that spans King Street, the Dynasty Building that houses the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre, and most recently, the Peace Tower, a seven-storey housing project at Princess Street and Logan Avenue.

As a result of building up the district, the once-fractured Chinese community was also brought together in a cultural united front, said Lee, who will deliver the eulogy at Du's funeral Saturday morning inside St. Boniface Cathedral.

"I think Manitoba should remember Dr. Du as a great Canadian, a great Manitoban and a great Winnipegger. He was a very friendly person," Lee said.

Among his many accolades, Du was a member of the Order of Canada, the Order of Manitoba, and the Order of the Buffalo Hunt. And in 2013, he had a street renamed in his honour — Dr. Joseph Du Way — in the Chinatown area.

Du, who had been going through dialysis, died from complications due to diabetes.

"He struggled for seven-and-a-half years, but at the end he went to the Almighty in a peaceful way," said Lee.

Father killed by bomb during Second World War

Du was born in 1933 in northern Vietnam to an ethnic Chinese family.

He was the youngest son in a family of 11, of which only five boys survived through childhood.

Watching his sisters die left a lasting impression on the young Du. At the age of seven, he decided he wanted to be a pediatrician and help people because he believed that, with proper medical care, his siblings could have survived.

The family struggled after Du's father was killed by an American bomb during the Second World War, but thanks to scholarships he was able to continue his studies.

When Vietnam was divided by the Geneva Conference, Du fled the Communist north at the age of 17. He went to Taiwan, where he studied medicine for the next 10 years before moving to Canada to do his accreditation.

Du had originally intended to leave Canada and practise in Hong Kong, but a young X-ray technician at Winnipeg's Misericordia Hospital named Jeannine caught his eye.

They married and in 1968, Du set up a successful pediatrics practice at the Winnipeg Clinic, across from the Bay downtown.

That same year, he joined a group of doctors in an outreach program in northern Manitoba. For 33 years, Du regularly flew to remote communities to treat people living there.

Thanks to his decision at age seven, Du ended up caring for generations of children, Lee said, describing his friend as someone who was loved beyond measure.

"Losing him is like losing a close brother. His philosophy, his chemistry was very close to mine [and] we became almost like twins."