The Story Behind Chinese-Canadian Restaurants

I have only written a couple of posts about my family. There is the one about celebrating Christmas An Old-Fashioned Chinese-Canadian Christmas and one about eating out with my dad in a Chinese restaurant The Writing on the Wall: Ordering a Chinese Meal. A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to tell a bigger story and in a way that I had never done before. It took me six years, but I finally finished my first documentary.   

Meet and Eat at Lee’s Garden takes a look at Chinese-Canadian restaurants in the 1950s, the men who owned them and what the restaurants meant to the Chinese and Jewish communities.

 Working in restaurants as a cook, waiter or owner defined a generation of head-tax payers including my father who opened Lee’s Garden on Park Avenue in 1951.

The 1950s was a time of change for the Chinese community. The Chinese Immigration Act was repealed by parliament and the men who had lived in Canada for decades were finally allowed to become Canadian citizens and bring their wives and children to Canada.

The restaurants allowed a relationship between the Chinese and their customers that would not have occurred outside of the restaurants. Those early pioneers were the face of the Chinese community. They made contact with a society that considered them outsiders. By opening their doors and welcoming everyone who entered, other marginalized communities, such as the Jewish community, found acceptance.

In the 1950s, for the Jewish community, the fact that Chinese restaurants were open seven days a week meant they could have family dinners on Sunday, when other restaurants were closed. This brings up the question of why Jewish people eat Chinese food made with pork. The answer is Safe Treyf, the logic by which a Jewish person can eat the pork in Chinese food.

The Chinese-Canadian restaurant and its distinctive menu have earned a place in history and in people’s hearts. Upon closer examination, they also tell the story of the struggle of the Chinese to be accepted in Canada, of Chinese families who were separated for decades because of a racist government policy, and the food that has created a bond between the Chinese and Jewish communities that continues to this day.

My documentary, Meet and Eat at Lee’s Garden, will premiere on CBC on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020 at 7p.m. on the show Absolutely Canadian. It will also be available for streaming on the internet (in Canada only) with the CBC GEM app.

Why is that Cat in the Window and Other Things You Might Ask About Asian Heritage Month

Asian Heritage Month 2018 at Children's World Acacemy

See the statue of the cat that I’m holding? You may recognize it if you frequent Asian establishments. It’s usually near the cash register or in the window of the store. I discovered the meaning of why the cat has one paw raised while I was doing a presentation for Asian Heritage Month at Children’s World Academy last Friday. My friend and co-presenter, Walter, explained that the cat is beckoning people to enter the store. The cat is holding a coin in its other paw, a sign that people should enter and spend money. It was as much a revelation to me as to the kids.  Continue reading

Papa Jackie Serves Happy Families

 

Saturday night, my family had an emergency meeting of sorts. Our favorite Chinese restaurant, Papa Jackie, is closing for renovations for two months as of May 8th. My brother sent out a text alert Thursday announcing that he had made supper reservations for Saturday night at six o’clock. We responded quickly like any dutiful family member would when there’s a promise of a good meal. So there we were, eleven of us, squeezed around a table for ten. Every table in the restaurant was reserved and most likely, so was the next seating at eight.   Continue reading

Doctor by Day, Mystery Writer at Night – Meet Melissa Yi

May is Asian Heritage Month!

I thought I’d kick it off by introducing an author I met last summer in Ottawa at a book festival called Prose in the Park (read the post here.) Melissa Yuan-Innes, a.k.a. Melissa Yi, is an emergency doctor and the author of a doctor-detective series that is set right here in Montreal. I purchased the first book Code Blues and enjoyed it so much I bought the second, Notorious D.O.C. I’m officially hooked. It’s no surprise to me Continue reading

How to Tell Time in Chinese

While doing counting topics, most of my students would shout out to me “the Chinese language makes so much sense!”with a big smile on their face. When it comes to describing a.m. and p.m. in time, they would frown a bit, ask a few questions about pronunciation and say “I guess I just have to memorise it” […]

via It’s about time. — My Daily Chinese Fix

Straight Talk about Race

So now you get to see what my Cover Girl experience was all about. The CBC officially launched Real Talk on Race today. For the next two weeks, CBC Montreal’s radio, television and social media platforms will be discussing and encouraging people to talk about race and racial identity. Ten Montrealers,  including me, contributed personal stories which you can read on their web site. My story will roll out on Wednesday, but you can have a sneak peek here.

Listen to CBC radio’s Daybreak and Radio Noon. You can join the conversation by texting or calling into the show. You can also like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CBCMontreal/ or follow them on Twitter and Instagram: @CBCMontreal.