Filipino-Canadian in Focus: Frank and Olga Tan

By , on February 19, 2014

Frank and Olga Tan's family. Photo courtesy of Frank Tan.
Frank and Olga Tan’s family. Photo courtesy of Frank Tan.


Every Pinoy must have heard the expression “mula Aparri hanggang Jolo” (from Aparri to Jolo) at least once in their lifetime.

To put this in perspective, Aparri is more than 500 kilometers from Manila, which is about 18 hours by bus—if you’re lucky.

Despite such distance, Frank Tan and (then) Olga Alvarado’s paths crossed.


Destiny written all over

Francisco “Frank” Tan Jr. is a native of Pasig City, while Olga Dumlao Alvarado grew up in Aparri, Cagayan. He studied Fisheries Technology and earned his master’s degree in government management from the University of the Philippines, she earned her Pharmacy degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

In spite of the differences, Frank found Olga and Olga found Frank.

Together, they built their humble beginnings in Cagayan Valley, where Frank was assigned as the regional director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Olga established her own drug store.

They got married on January 25, 1964.

Remember that old cliché, “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be?” Well, this lovely couple is a living testament to that beat-up saying. No matter the distance, despite taking different disciplines in difference universities, they still found their way to each other.

Recently, Frank and Olga celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in downtown Toronto. The couple renewed their marriage vows with the help of Rev. Fr. John Sullivan, parish priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, as the officiator.

After the ceremonies, a formal reception was held at the Ellas Hospitality Center in Danforth Road, Toronto. Relatives and close friends joined the Tan family as they celebrated 50 years of blissful togetherness. Eleanor Alvarado Calbes-Thomson serenaded Frank, Olga, and their guests. And of course, the festivities wouldn’t be complete without performance from their grandchildren.

Talk about destiny, eh?


More than blessings

Frank and Olga’s love brought them unspeakable joy and priceless rewards in the form of their five children.

They consider them to be the source of their pride. And why not? After raising five achievers, they should give themselves a pat on the back for a job very well done.

Their eldest daughter, Liesel, earned her degree in medicine from Manila Central University. She is now a registered nurse in Canada and currently working as the Nurse-in-Charge at the Leisure World Nursing home in Mississauga. She is married to Jose Aguila. They have two children.

Rommel, their second child, finished his accountancy degree in San Beda College. He is now working for a British financial company in Mississauga. He married Jocelyn Co and they have two kids together.

The middle child, Vanessa, earned her degree in pharmacy from Centro Escolar University. She is now a licensed pharmacist in Canada. She is running her own drugstore with the help of her husband, Aftabul Habib. They have two kids.

Ramie earned his degree in medical technology from his mom’s Alma Mater—University of Santo Tomas. Today, he is working as a licensed medical technologist at the Blood Bank of Toronto East General Hospital. He married Myla Tan and they bore two children.

Last but certainly not the least, their youngest kid Omar is an Economics graduate from York University. Now, he is working at the Bank of New York in Bermuda.

“I’m very thankful that they’re all obedient children. They follow our [advice]. Our children are very good because they are religious… They know how to give and take with their brothers and sisters and help each other. There’s nothing more we can wish [for] because everything is okay with us.”

Just in case you failed to do the math, their five kids have blessed Frank and Olga with eight grandchildren—all between the ages of 6 to 18.


Moving to Canada

With the encouragement of Frank’s sister and the hope of finding a better future for their children, Frank and Olga decided to move to Canada in November 1991 with their entire family.

“I was invited by my sister who happens to be a professor in the University of Toronto, a doctor of psychology,” Frank shared. “She told us that our children will have a better future here, although I’m okay na in the Philippines.”

At first, Frank’s relatives helped them out as they all tried to find whatever job they could in order to make a living.

For Frank and his household, the biggest challenge they faced after moving to a new country was employment.

“Number one there is finding your profession—a job in order to support the family, any kind of job you [can] take,” Frank said.

Frank himself met some new friends who introduced him to the Primerica Financial Corporation. He started out as a subscriber, then an agent, and he continued to work for financial services for some time.

As for their kids who all earned their college degrees back in the Philippines, most of them had to study again in Canada to get accreditation.

“They have to study again here,” Frank said about his children.

“It was very, very discouraging,” he noted, “but I told them, ‘you have a better future here. Just take your chance and be patient’.”

And patient they all were. Frank, Olga, and their five children started to take odd jobs here and there to make ends meet—both in school and at home.

“My two daughters, they [worked as nannies] for my sister in their condominium, at least they can support us,” he recalled.

“And my other [sons], one worked in McDonald’s and the other one worked with my brother-in-law who happens to be in capitals management,” he continued.

Despite the challenges, Frank noted that the Canadian government, even more than two decades ago, has always been helpful—even to immigrants like him and his family.

“The government here in Canada is very helpful,” Frank pointed out.

Around three or four years later, after years of working during the day and studying at night, their kids finally finished their studies, earned their accreditation, and found better jobs. Since then, everything started to get better.

Today, almost 23 years after they flew to The Great White North, Frank and Olga still think of home.

“We used to go home to the Philippines every year, because [she still has] relatives in Cagayan Valley to visit. In my case, I still have nieces and nephews in Makati. We have to see them and see how their lives are doing.”


Words from the Wise

For those who just arrived in Canada (or for those who are planning to make The Big Move), Frank shared two pieces of advice based on experience.

“The first important thing to do is to join any community organization. From there, you can have networks and find some help, and whatever you do, you owe it to the community,” he said.

As for the second advice:

“The point is: do not lose hope, just keep on working and keep on praying that the Lord will help you in what you’re doing. Don’t lose hope and everything will come out alright… If you lose hope, you’re a goner. Hope is always there. It will come out okay. Just keep on praying [for] whatever you are doing and the Lord will help.”