Ben Li

Ben Li

Ben Lee is one of the best-known Chinese Canadians in the Valley. He is valued as a tireless community volunteer who may be best remembered for his 23 years of service on Kelowna city council.

Beyond the Okanagan, he is recognized as a pioneer in the province. Ben was the first man of Chinese heritage to teach school in British Columbia.

But his accomplishments did not come without struggle — including the ugly fact of discrimination. “It’s been difficult at times,” Ben says. “I had to work harder at times.”

For instance, Ben was warned not to train as a teacher by those who felt he was unlikely to be hired. But he persevered and taught for 34 years in Rutland, retiring in 1985.

Ben was born in Armstrong, where for many years, his mother was the only Chinese woman. His father, a market gardener, was one of the few men able to scrape together the $500 tax Canada charged each immigrant from China.

Ben was encouraged to be active in the community and to reach out to people from all walks of life. He followed that advice in Rutland, where he raised a family with his wife, Joyce, while volunteering for community organizations such as the parks board and the multicultural society. A Rutland park bears his name in recognition of his many contributions.