Memories Tumble- Along with the Walls! by Racille (Hummel) Ellis

The A & P Cafe and its owners: Amy and Peter Yipp with children Carmen and Joanna

On July 14th. 2010, Champion’s last ‘Chinese’ restaurant was torn down.

As I saw the walls come down, memories filled my mind as these restaurants, or Cafes, as we called them, were such a part of our growing up in Champion.

The demolition on July 14, 2010

In the early years all small villages and towns, benefited from having Chinese cafes in their towns. There were only Chinese men as they left their sweethearts or wives in China while they came to Canada to make a better life for their families. Later, some of them went back to China to bring their families to Canada, but by then, they no longer lived in Champion.

In Champion there were three Chinese Cafes, all located on the North side of Main Street. They were all similar, very nice two story structures, unlike many of the shack type buildings that lined mainstreet.

The first café building, (from the West) was Gunder Neirson’s store for a short time, it was named the Rex Café, and in 1927 was owned by Frank Leong. Rooms were rented out in the upstairs of the cafes to single men needing inexpensive accommodations. In the Nov. 13, 1941 Chronicle it said “Frank Leong announces the opening of his café to be known as ‘Frank’s’. He has done considerable fixing up and redecorating and is looking forward to doing a good business in Champion. Frank has faith in the fact that Champion will have an airport.” It closed in the late 40’s and was later used as Stan Matlock’s Electrical Shop.

The middle café was first known as Long Louie’s, but I remember it as the B.C. Café.

(I don’t know what the B.C. stood for.) The next café, and last to stand, was known as the Strand Café, City Café, Yipp’s Café and lastly A & P Café. The gents who ran the cafes were all known by nicknames. e.g. Frank, Sam, Fat, Joe, Long Louie, Wing etc. We would tell our friends we would meet them at the Chinaman’s. It was never said out of disrespect, as we truly cared for these gentlemen.

The empty lot that remains on Champion's Main Street

In restaurant adds in an October 1927 Champion Chronicle it said “Long Louie Café – for 11 years the leading restaurant in town.” It mentioned the Rex Café with Jack Lim as proprietor and the Sam Fong Café. From the local newspaper Jan. 1928 “Long Louie has just completed the erection of a new ice house in connection with his restaurant. The new building is a commodious affair and should solve any problems connected with insured supply of ice for the season.” In Feb. 1931 there was a new ad for the Sam Fong Café.

On busy Saturday nights we would hurry out of the picture show at the Community Hall and get to the café while there was still room to crowd in the booths. The back booth was always the most desirable booth, though I was never sure why??

These gentlemen were all friends of my dad who was the village blacksmith. They were also friends of most of the children in the area. The only Chinese language I ever knew was ‘Da He Choy’ (pardon the translation!) as when my twin brother and I would walk in the café, Joe, with a big smile, would call out “Here’s Da He Choy” which translated in English to ‘Here’s Blacksmith’s Boy.” Often I would go to my daddy’s blacksmith shop where he would give me a penny and I could go buy two little suckers which I would share with my brother.

I am sure these fellows took a lot of teasing and guff from teenagers and it did not take them long to know which kids to enjoy. My brother had a rather arrogant friend and Fat wasn’t very happy with this guy. He told my brother that “that Charlie – he think he King.” He had him figured out pretty good.

Ramon tells that when the wooden plank side walks were taken up to install the modern cement ones, the best place to look for coins that had dropped in the cracks, was in front of the cafes. He said he and his buddies watched pretty closely to make sure they were there at that time.

As a youngster I do not remember ever eating a meal at the cafes. Possibly if you lived in the country you were more apt to have a meal there, but we lived in town. I do remember going in with my folks and Uncle Si and Aunt Bess and having apple pie alamode. That was the first time I had ever had ice cream on pie. I remember my girlfriend Ruth Stewart and I, pooling our two nickels so we could buy a butterscotch sunday. We would coax Joe to add more butterscotch, and he usually did. Sodas were also popular. Now they call them floats. When George and I were courting he loved Wings toasted fried ham sandwiches. They were good!

It was great excitement when the café got its first whurlitzer. (S.P.?) or juke box as they were also called. There had been one at Sisson’s Café (where the Telus building now stands) but they had closed and now we could go into Joe’s and part with our nickels.

As many of us could benefit from one nickel, and enjoy our favorite tunes, it was money well spent.

The first Chinese family that I remember owning and operating a café was the Yee Leong family. Yee came to Canada in 1920 like so many other fellows, and after the war he returned to China and was married. Henry and Lily were born in China but they came with their parents to Canada and Champion in 1948. They lived here until 1959 and Henry and Lily were popular students and had many friends. My family really benefited from their friendship as when they moved to Edmonton after Christmas, Lily moved in to our home until school was out. She helped me with my three little children, which covered her room and board. It was the first time she had actually lived in a home (other than above the café) and she loved it. She had never baked sweets so I taught her how to bake, while she taught me how to make wonderful fried rice. We became life long friends even attending her wedding in Edmonton.

In 1959 Leong’s sold the café to Sam Eng who also had a family of school age.

In 1968 Don and Suzan Yipp bought the café (the only cafe left by then) and now for the first time, Chinese children were born here. Dickson, Vincent and Jason grew up here and were a real asset to our school and community and very popular boys. Don and Suzy also fit right into our community and though they live in Calgary now, we still consider them Championites. Don and Suzy sold to Margaret Chan in 1986 and she ran the café until Peter and Amy Yipp (Don’s nephew) moved to Canada. Margaret moved to operate the Confectionary and Liquor Store in the old Pool Hall and has now retired and when not traveling, is a permanent resident of Champion.

Peter and Amy had two children Carmen and Joanna, who were born while they lived in Carmangay. The locals were pleased to have Peter cooking as his food reminded them of his Uncle Don’s cooking. Soon they found the café did not have room to accommodate the now popular smorg’s, and when an opening came to buy the hotel, they vacated the old café and moved to the hotel. Since then the café has remained empty, and alas, after 99 years, very run down and unstable.

We are thankful for our Chinese Cafes in the past and those fine people who were the first to make our Champion a ‘multi cultural village.’

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