Monica Wu

Monica Wu

Community Pillars

Some lives are very private, not Monica Wu’s. Hers is a very public life, one that continues to have an enormous impact on multiculturalism in the city of Ottawa and beyond. On one level, a single word captures the essence of this remarkable life: volunteer. But underneath that simple word is a complex and inspiring mix of skills, leadership, drive, and commitment to others that began early in her childhood. The more she travelled the more this commitment developed – in Brazil and then here in Canada, starting in Montreal. Her focus has been the vital interplay of elimination of racism, societal equality, and cross-culture awareness. She developed that focus at a young age. When she was 12-years old she traveled to South Africa and saw first-hand the cruel injustices of apartheid. There, in a country so segregated by language, culture, race, and violence, her passion was sparked for promoting social justice and cross-cultural understanding. Now, 54-years later, as her work continues, she can look back through a long-line of volunteer engagement in every city she has ever resided in – Montreal, Guelph, Charlottetown, and for the last 26 years, Ottawa.

As soon as the teenaged Monica Wu first arrived in Montreal from Brazil, she started volunteering. With her background in classical ballet and with a desire to promote Chinese culture, she began teaching folkdance to Chinese children in Montreal. A few years later, the Guelph Chinese Canadian Club asked her to choreograph and teach Chinese folkdance to a girl’s group. Then, in 1977, the group made history as for the first time ever, the citizens of Guelph saw authentic Chinese folkdance during their city’s Multicultural Day celebrations.

Moving again, Monica Wu’s leadership and engagement in cross-cultural learning bore much fruit in Charlottetown, where she lived from 1978 to 1993. There, as its president, she led the Chinese Canadian Association of Prince Edward Island. Under her leadership, in 1989, the association saw the establishment of the first Chinese Folkdance Group of Charlottetown. The next year, also under her guidance, Prince Edward Island’s Chinese Canadian Association won that province’s Gorman Award for the Best Presentation in booth, food, and performance at the annual Heritage Fall Festival.

Believing that dance forms are a tool that can help break stereotypes and racial barriers, Monica Wu decided to teach Chinese folkdances to non-Asian dancers. As a volunteer dance instructor, she taught different versions of folkdances to accommodate the different abilities of her students. She choreographed and taught a ballet version of a Chinese folkdance to non-Asian students from Dance Umbrella, an arts training program at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre of the Arts. She was invited to perform in Typecasting, a 90-minute production by Dance Umbrella. During the Canada Winter Games in 1991, her students were invited to perform at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, as well as at the Heritage Fall Festival, at Canada Day celebrations, and at many other public events.

A generous spirit of volunteerism fuels Monica Wu’s commitment to cross-cultural education and learning. After successfully obtaining a grant from Multiculturalism Canada, she invited David Hu, a celebrated visual artist from Halifax, to lead the first Chinese brush painting workshop on the Island. This initiative was inspired by her continuing passion for sharing culture and breaking racial barriers, and the workshop was well-received and gave many Islanders the opportunity to learn Chinese painting for the first time.

As a member of the Chinese Canadian National Council, Monica Wu advocated on behalf of Chinese Canadians who suffered shameful treatment during Canada’s infamous head-tax years. She campaigned for an apology and compensation from the Government of Canada to all Chinese head-tax payers. After working many exhausting hours for more than three months, the campaign resulted in a letter of support from all four members of parliament on the Island. These efforts reflected her firm commitment to social justice wherever she happened to live.

From 1988 to 1992, she was a member of the Board of Directors of the PEI’s Multicultural Council. She designed and led the council in the construction of two floats to participate in Charlottetown’s famous Gold Cup and Saucer Parade, a major event televised by CBC. Guiding a group of fifty volunteers in the construction and presentation of a parade float was no easy task, especially on a tight budget. Yet, with her management skills and creativity, one float won the Best Institutional Award in 1990, and a second the Outstanding Achievement Award in 1992. By sharing her vision, her talents, and her ability to energize people, she was able to reinforce a sense of pride in all of PEI’s multicultural communities.

In 1993, Monica Wu moved to Ottawa, bringing her commitment to volunteerism with her. Now in Canada’s capital, she continued to spend countless volunteer hours organizing, planning, developing, designing, and also managing events to promote cross-cultural learning. She was at the forefront of planning Ottawa’s Asian Heritage Month. What began in 2003 as a small program of ten activities grew to many more the following year. Believing in inclusiveness, she and two others established a pan-Asian community organization, the Ottawa Asian Heritage Month Society (OAHMS). The goal was to organize and coordinate multiple Asian Heritage Month events in the National Capital Region throughout the month of May. As a graphic artist, she designed the logo for OAHMS and its original website, which she continues to help maintain.

Since then, and thanks to her continuing leadership, OAHMS has organized and coordinated at least 500 events over the last fifteen years. These include an annual Gala Concert, programs on Islamic Civilization, Science Presentations, Voices in Action Breakfast for high school students, Personal Journeys, Asian Film Festivals, Asian Canadians in Politics, Asian Hockey Tournaments, Asian Cooking Demonstrations, Photographic Presentations on Asia, as well as screenings of films from Kazakhstan, Turkey, and many other countries.

Monica Wu is a community leader and a social activist at heart. She believes that the exchange of arts and culture can break stereotypes, promote cross-cultural learning, and foster equality for all human beings. Her generosity as a volunteer has resulted in a web of friendships among pan-Asian Canadian community associations, diplomats, politicians at all levels, and important cultural institutions such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Significantly, the museum invited her as a partner to hold OAHMS’s Gala Concerts in its Theatre and Grand Hall. For a decade, she supervised every aspect of this special event’s programming, implementation, and promotion.

Her academic training in Fine Arts at Concordia University and Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University served as a foundation for this lifelong passion for sharing culture, promoting cross-cultural learning, and for advocating social equality. For half a century now, she has helped Canadians to embrace and appreciate countless cultures and to be proud of their heritage. Such unwavering contribution to community service has been recognized. In 2009, she received the Community Builder Award from United Way. In 2012, she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and in 2017, a Canada 150/Ottawa-West-Nepean Community Leadership Award.

Monica Wu’s commitment to sharing culture is as unwavering as it is inspiring. She loves meeting people from diverse backgrounds and learning about their cultures. She travels extensively, having now visited no fewer than 51 countries. These cross-cultural experiences serve to further motivate her dedication to the promotion of global learning and multiculturalism here in Canada