Dr. Sylvester Chuang, the driving force behind a number of car dealerships on Vancouver Island and the greater Toronto area, paid a visit to the Cowichan Valley on Wednesday.
Chuang also owns Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, Villa Eyrie Resort and the Cowichan River Lodge, all in the Cowichan Valley.
It was a business trip, but Chuang, now retired from his last position at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto where he was head of Mangetoencephalography, took some time to direct support and cash towards two local organizations.
He presented a cheque for $58,000 to the Cowichan District Hospital Foundation and then visited the Chinese cemetery where he made a donation and a commitment to continue his support.
“Sylvester has always been a very generous man over the years,” commented Marie Baynton, director of community engagement for Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit.
“It started in Toronto where he has been extremely supportive of Sick Children’s Hospital and other charities and it has continued here in the Cowichan Valley through the Motorsport Circuit.
“We’re very fortunate that he has chosen to donate to the Hospital Foundation and other organizations in our community.”
Chuang paid a visit to the Hillcrest Chinese Cemetery where 127 Chinese Canadians are buried. There he met with volunteers Neil Dirom and Willie Chow who have been instrumental in recording gravestone data and burial records as well as restoring and maintaining the site.
“Chinese people were greatly involved in B.C.’s logging industry in Cowichan,” Chuang noted.
“Before 1947, these hard working immigrants faced many restrictions, including being unable to marry. When they died, they did not have family nearby to care for their burial or their grave.
“I applaud the community volunteers who have been working to restore, maintain and improve the cemetery and for their extensive research of burial documentation.
Chuang may be the owner of a dozen Island dealerships and another 30 in Ontario but he prefers to maintain a low profile despite the success of his ventures.
In between cheque presentations, Chuang talked about his humble beginnings in China.
“My parents fled China when the Communists came in and they lost everything,” he explained.
“My father was able to re-establish a business in Hong Kong but they were not wealthy at all. We were a middle-class family.”
His father was able to send Sylvester and his four siblings overseas to pursue their education.
“I was 18 when I came to Canada and went to McGill [University in Montreal]. My mother told me to be a doctor,” he recalls.
After graduation, concerned about the political situation, Dr. Chuang opted to leave Quebec. He interned for a year in Vancouver and then had a decision to make.
“It was either Vancouver or Toronto and my wife decided Toronto,” he smiles.
He joined the staff at Sick Children’s Hospital in 1977 and in 1988, while working as a radiologist, he and his wife Pauline bought their first dealership, a Volvo operation, from the man who sold them their first Volvo automobile.
Although he is retired, Chuang continues to volunteer at Sick Kids as a consulting neuroradiologist and is a strong supporter of the hospital’s foundation and other charities. Chuang says he believes that when you contribute to a hospital you touch a broad segment of the community and that has influenced his decision to support the Cowichan Hospital Foundation as well as other non-profits in the Valley.
He concedes he is aware of cynicism coming from some people who see his philanthropic efforts as being motivated only by business interests.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he shrugs. “I don’t even want my name on it. When I give it’s in the name of the company, like the Motorsport Circuit.”