EARLY DAYS- Yung Hing Fong with his three children

Red Deer’s Chinese Canadians

This month marks an important centennial for a large portion of the world’s population. On Oct. 10, 1911, the Xinhai Revolution commenced. The result was the collapse of the ancient Qing dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China.

The overseas Chinese provided vital support for this historic revolution. Since the fall of the centuries-old regime precipitated many years of turmoil and conflict, the ongoing support of the overseas Chinese remained crucial.

Hence, in mid-June, 1918, San Yet Son, former principal secretary to Dr. Sun Yet-sen, the first president of the Republic of China, together with Mr. Tsang Sak Chuan of the Chinese Nationalist League of Canada made a special visit to the Chinese residents of Red Deer.

The local community was still a small one, but it already had some deep roots. The first Chinese arrived in Red Deer in the 1890s when it was just a village with a population of less than 300.

The first of these Chinese pioneers worked in the restaurants of the local hotels such as the Alberta, Windsor and Arlington. In the fall of 1899, the community’s first Chinese laundry opened.

According to the 1901 federal census, there were three Chinese living in Red Deer – Ying Mar, Gee Yee and Chong Tack. The first two worked in the local laundry while the third was a cook.

Red Deer at the turn of the last century began to grow very rapidly. The number of Chinese living in the community began to grow as well. Some of the notable local business people at the time were Mar Lee, who ran a restaurant next to the Alberta Hotel; Sam and Ash Lee, who were also in the restaurant business and Mar Quon who operated a laundry on Gaetz Ave. south.

In 1912, the Hong Sun Company, dealers in imported Chinese goods, opened a store on Ross St. next to the Red Deer Café.

In 1916, George Moon and Charlie Chuck took over the Commercial Café on Ross Street west.

While they sold that business in 1926 and moved to Calgary, their new ventures did not work out. In 1929, they returned to Red Deer and opened the Club Café, Red Deer’s longest operating restaurant.

Meanwhile, in 1924, Hop Woo Yuen, with some Chinese partners started a large market garden in the Woodlea subdivision. This was later taken over by Wah King. Sam Wong, operating as the Sam Wo Market Gardens, moved the business to Mountview in 1948. Later it moved again to the Balmoral district east of the City.

In 1927, Yung Hing Fong with his wife Mabel Lee and three children moved to Red Deer and purchased the Paris Café. The Fongs were one of the first Chinese Canadian families to establish residence in Red Deer, as many of those who lived here previously were either bachelors or married men with wives and children still in China.

During the Second World War, with large numbers of military personnel and new prosperity in the community, the restaurants, laundries and other businesses in Red Deer really prospered.

Red Deer continued to boom after the War.

Willie Yet Mah, who had operated the Royal Café from 1936 to 1946, then purchased the Club Café. The restaurant was later taken over by Willie Yet Mah’s son and daughter-in-law, Sid and Margaret Mah, in partnership with Harold and Kathy Mah (no relation, but the uncle and aunt to the famous Gar Mar, the new Alberta trade envoy to Asia).

As boom progressed, many Chinese and Chinese Canadians joined the huge number of people moving to what was soon to become the fastest growing city in Canada. Several new Chinese Canadian businesses began to spring up.

Among the new businesses, started or purchased by Chinese Canadians in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were Sterling Cleaners, which was owned by Seto Mar Doo and Soman Leung; Jack’s Men’s Wear and Jack’s Department Store which were owned and operated by Jack and Song Mah Ming, Mar’s Photography which was started by Henry Mar, Wei’s Western Wear which was started by Wei and Moon Mah; and the Michener Hill Grocery, which was owned by Willie Yet Mah and was operated with his family for many years.

Wing Wong, who ran a store in Haynes, became a major building owner, particularly in the downtown area.

Currently, Frank Wong is a popular member of City Council while Lawrence Lee is the chair of the Red Deer Public School Board.

Space unfortunately does not allow a complete listing of all of the Chinese and Chinese Canadians who have contributed so much to Red Deer. Nevertheless, they have all helped to create the modern thriving City that we enjoy today.

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