Museum Musings – Chinese Cafes in Prince Albert

Ed. Note:

Most early Chinese residents have their roots in the Canadian Pacific Railway. They came to the country in 1880, and were told to go home, with many discriminatory policies put in place to try to chase them away. The Chinese Immigration Act required newcomers to pay a head tax of $500 by 1903 — the only group in Canada faced with such a charge. Faced with discrimination and violence, most immigrants resorted to opening laundries and cafés. They were forced out of many other professions by anti-Chinese sentiment, and at one point had to receive a special licence in order to hire white women in their shops. In 1923, Canada passed the Chinese Immigration Act, barring Chinese from entering the country and controlling those already here, and remained in place for 34 years. It wasn’t until after the Second Word War, where the two countries were allied, that things started to change. Legislation was withdrawn in 1947, and attitudes began to shift as well. Between 1971 and 2001 the Chinese population in Saskatchewan doubled, from 4,605 to 9,280. According to the 2001 census statistics, the Chinese community represented the largest visible minority group in Saskatchewan. Today, the community has diverse cultural, professional and social backgrounds and is integral to our communities, and it’s important to remember that many misconceptions about the community, and unsubstantiated claims of ties to gambling and drug dens, are rooted in historical discrimination.

  • Source: Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan and Government of Canada.

by Fred Payton

Often people chat with me about the Chinese cafes and restaurants we used to have on Central Avenue.  At the Historical Museum, former residents drop by to ask about the Wings Café, or to recall fondly their experiences eating toasted tea cakes at the Lotus Café.

I recall wending my way to the back of the Deluxe Café for luncheon meetings with one committee or another, or attending a special celebration in their banquet room.  Do you recall the table top juke box selectors in the PO Café, or early morning coffee at the Wings?  I once felt that Janey and Hope at the Princess Café were like family, as I had coffee there regularly when I was employed at the Stag Shop.

Aside from Janice Wong’s family history in her cook book “Chow:  From China to Canada:  Memories of Food and Family” I know of little documentation about Prince Albert’s Chinese community and their restaurants and cafes.  If any more information exists, even personal recollections, I would enjoy reading or hearing them.

If I have mis-named any persons, I apologise.  I had to rely on information in which Chinese names may have been misspelled by the Caucasian people recording them. 

Let me be clear.  I heard rumours through the years about the frequent change of ownership of these restaurants as a result of gambling debts, but that’s not what I found.  I have found that most of the cafes had very stable ownership.

The first indication which I could find of a Chinese presence in Prince Albert was gleaned from the 1908 Henderson’s Directory.  It should be noted that the Directory in those early years provided pretty skimpy information.  There were no street addresses provided, possibly because at the time street addresses were non-existent in Prince Albert. 

Three eating establishments were listed for 1908:  Charles Boyles’ City Restaurant, Joe Calkins’ Maple Leaf Restaurant, and S.H. Thom’s New England Café.  All were on River Street, whether east or west is not indicated, but likely all were on River West.  None appeared to be Chinese.  However, the Directory did contain a listing for the ill-fated Hoo Sam, who was identified simply by name and the word “restaurant”.  Presumably he worked for one of the three restaurant owners.

By 1909, Hoo Sam owned his own restaurant, the Canadian Restaurant in the 1000 block of 1st Avenue West.  He was also a partner with Mark Ying (could this be a mis-spelling of Mark Yuen or Mark Yin?) in the Prince Albert Café at 831 Central Avenue.

By 1911, Prince Albert was home to at least five Chinese run eateries.  These included the Alexandra Restaurant, run by Jim Jockbin in 1909, but now operated by Lee Sing.  The Canadian Restaurant was now operated by Tom Wing, while Hoo Sam had moved across 1st Avenue West to open the Saskatchewan Café (the site of the infamous murder of his partner).  The B.C. Restaurant (Lee Mark) on River Street, and the Prince Albert Café on Central Avenue were also Chinese operated.

In 1913, Finley McLeod opened the Thistle Café at 1117 2nd Avenue West.  Although with the name McLeod it is not likely to have been a Chinese restaurant, The Thistle was the fore-runner of the Canada Café, run successively by Joe Mark (1919), Mack Hing (1923), and Hong Kee (1925) before later becoming known as the Ireland Café (Mack Tom) in 1925.  Other owners through the years included Annie Chester (1929) and Bill Mack (from 1941).  In 1947, it was run by Kim Yee and known again as the Canada Cafe.  By 1949, Jack Wing had taken it over.  He ran it until 1954, when Mack Wah became the owner, later changing the name to Mac’s Café.  Mack Wah ran it until the late 1960s, when Jack Ma bought him out.

For most of its existence, this café sat west of 2nd Avenue West, just south of River Street.  When the Diefenbaker Bridge was built, and the routing of 2nd Avenue was changed, the building was demolished, and the business was moved to the northwest corner of 14th Street and 2nd Avenue West where it operated until 1981.  Jack Ma ran it until then when the business was closed for good.  A new building was erected, and now houses Flames Pub.

Other Chinese cafes in Prince Albert in 1913 included the Canadian Restaurant, King’s Café (owned by the future owner of Mac’s Café, Mack Wah), and the Newfoundland Café (owned by Fred Doo Suey).

The following year, the number of Chinese restaurants had grown to twice the number.  King’s Café and the newly opened Victoria Café were located on Central Avenue, while Tom Mack’s Café (the Saskatchewan Café) was one of four cafes located on River Street West.  Of these, two others were Chinese cafes.  They included the Paris Café at 79 River West, and the Riverside Café at 73 River West.  Other competitors in the Chinese restaurant business included the established Canadian and Alexandra Restaurants on 1st Avenue West, the previously mentioned Canada Café on 2nd Avenue West, Jem Mack’s Western Café on 8th Street East, and the Royal Restaurant on 13th Street East.  The latter two restaurants were within a block of Central, but were the first Chinese restaurants to locate off a major street.

Having survived the economic down-turn of the First World War, in 1919 the Alexandra Restaurant and the Canada Café were still in their previous locations.  King’s Café had been moved off Central by Yuen Bow and become King’s Tea Rooms.  The Victoria Café was now the Empire Café, run by Tom Mack.  Tom Mark’s Saskatchewan Café at 47 River Street West had become the Queen Bess Café, and the Riverside Café was now owned by Mrs. L. Howell.  Art Lee opened Billy’s Café at 700 Central Avenue, while the Post Office Café had been opened by Mark Lem.

Often referred to as the P. O. Café, the Post Office Café sat next to the local post office.  Through the years it had fairly stable ownership, with Mark Lem (sometimes referred to as Mark Lem Fun) owning it until the 1930s.  At that time, it was purchased by Mah Jung who owned it in whole or in part through to the mid-1960s.  The only exception was in the late 1940s and early 1950s when a consortium owned it.  Mah Jung was back in the ownership position by 1952, although at that time as a member of a consortium.  The P.O. was bought in the late 1960s by Jack Ma, who maintained ownership of it until 1978 when it closed.  By 1980, Hope Chow had moved the Princess Café from its location at 1210 Central Avenue to the former premises of the P.O. Café, where it is to this day.

The Princess Café was opened in 1929 by S.H. Thom, who had owned and operated the New England Café on River Street in 1908.  Thom operated the café at the corner of Central Avenue and 12th Street East until 1944, at which point William Seto bought the café.  In 1947, a conglomerate including Mah Jung, Bing Chow and Charlie Wong purchased the business.  They operated the Princess until 1950 when Bing Chow appears to have established sole ownership.  In 1955, Chow appears to have been joined in the business by Jack and John Chow, Joe Moore, and Jack Quong.  This partnership lasted, as best we can tell, until 1958, when Bing Chow once again had sole ownership for a year.  In 1959, he and the previous owners were joined in partnership by Robert Chong.  By 1963, Jack Quong owned the Princess, but by 1964 John Chow had taken over.  He retained ownership until 1970, when Mrs. Hope Chow (Jane) became the owner.  Hope and Janey ran the business together until 1993 when they left the restaurant business.  They were responsible, however, for the aforementioned move in 1980 from 1210 Central Avenue to 1226 Central Avenue.  After they left the business, Kenny Leung was installed as manager. The 1210 Central location is now the site of The Bison Café.

The Lotus Café did not open until the mid-1950s.  Cecil Mar and Dennis Wong were partners in this enterprise, from its opening until 1963.  At that time, Dennis Wong owned the business on his own, although Cecil Mar did appear as an owner again in 1970, remaining in the business until 1976.  Prior to retiring in 1980, Dennis Wong sold part of the business to Art Gee in 1979.  Art Gee continued as the owner of the Lotus until 1985, when he took Mee Gee into a partnership which lasted until 1997.  After that, the Lotus was owned and operated by Kam and Kwan Holdings.

Another Chinese restaurant with stable ownership and management was the Airways Café.  The Airways Café opened at 1112 Central Avenue during World War 2.  It was owned and operated by Kim Mah until 1962 when he sold it to Bing Chow.  Chow renamed the restaurant the Corona, and ran it until 1964, when he sold it to Arthur Chung, who renamed it the Deluxe Café.  When Chung left the community in 1970, he sold it to Robert Chow.  Chow partnered with Jack Quong in 1972, and ran the café thereafter either by himself or in partnership with Quong until 1978 when Chung Chi Luk and Chung Shing Luk took over the business.  In 1980, Frank Lai and David Kwok bought the Deluxe Café, although it would appear that Lai ran it by himself from 1981 until 1984, when Kit Lai became a partner.  They continued to run the café until its closing in 1995.  Through the years since, the site has been home to a number of eateries.  Currently, it is the home of Crown Pizza.

Two other restaurants deserve some mention.  One is the Rose Café, which opened in 1992.  Norman Quong ran it initially, but Kenny Yeung took it over in 1993.  When he left to manage the Princess, in 1993, Vince Leung took over until its closure in 1998.

The first mention I found of the Wings Café was in 1941.  Tony Kwan owned the restaurant.  By 1945, Cecil Mar had assumed ownership, and he appears to have owned it until 1955.  Denny Wong joined him in partnership in 1954, and in 1955 Howard Yip joined them.  The Wings ownership remained in the Mar family from 1956 with Terry, Douglas and Mark Mar assuming ownership along with Howard Yip.  In 1959 the Wings was owned by Douglas, Terry and York Mar, along with Howard Yip.  By 1963, control had passed to Ben Dong, Jack Quon, and Fred Quon.  They were joined by Sam Quon in 1964.  A further change in ownership had occurred by 1966 (Sam Quong, Allan Quong, Shew Dong, and Ben Dong) who maintained ownership until 1970.  Allan Quong left the business by 1971, and the remaining three ran the cafe until 1976.  In 1977, Clarence Kwok opened WK Kitchen in the former premises of the Wings Café.  Delicate Petals is the current occupant of the site.

All that’s left of those in the downtown core is the Princess Café.  What a difference a couple of decades can make!