Cafe Owner and Operator
My father first came to Canada about 1893. He worked as a houseboy in Vancouver; as a cook in Seattle and elsewhere, including Taber, Alberta; and as head cook in Fernie and Michel, B.C. In 1964, at ninety years of age, he died -- he was still working with me here at the cafe then.
Everyone knows me as C-- C--, but my Chinese name is actually L-- C-- T--. I was born in 1896 in the county of Hoi-ping, near Canton. In 1913 I travelled to Vancouver aboard the Empress of Russia, a new 3,000-ton steamship with three large smokestacks; with me were some of my cousins who had previously lived and worked in Canada.
I had no option but to borrow $500 in China to pay the head tax. The lenders charged me a high rate of interest, and I had to get right to work to start paying back the loan. For six months I worked as a houseboy at the home of Mrs. E--; I was paid twelve dollars per month. I then quit and went to Kamloops, B.C., with my father. I obtained work at a hotel and would get up at 5:00 a.m. to cook for men who worked out in the bush. Later, I worked as a cook and kitchen-helper for coal miners in Fernie, B.C. I would rise at 4:00 a.m. and work until 10:00 p.m. All I received was twenty dollars per month for my eighteen-hour days.
For a year I went to Sunday School in Fernie. We had classes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights. [These would have been church sponsored classes for immigrants, who would be taught English and some basic Christianity]. Whenever I wasn't working I'd attend. Our teacher liked me and wanted me to attend public school; but, my father didn't have much money, so I couldn't attend, even though I had attended school in China for six years.
After leaving Fernie I worked at Fort Macleod and some small towns in Alberta: Carmangay, Burmis and Claresholm; also I worked for one year at my Uncle Lester's restaurant in Stavely, Alberta. Just before I came to New Dayton, I went to Lethbridge and lived in the Kwong On Lung building in Chinatown, owned by W-- L--. I got a job making bread and buns at a local Greek bakery. The owner had hardly any customers, but, in addition to five cooks, he had six or seven girls working for him! He sure liked women! Before long he went broke.
I arrived in New Dayton with my father in 1917. At that time it was hard to get a job. For $1,000 we had a building constructed, and in October 1918 we began operating the New Dayton Cafe. Also, I had rooms built there for workers to sleep in. There were lots of people around then. I charged twenty-five cents a night; people brought their own blankets and slept on the floor. I had to do this to make a living. The hotel manager, who charged one dollar a night, became very jealous of me.
In 1923 we had this building erected at a cost of $3,000. We intended to use the first building as a rooming-house and this one as a cafe. During the evening of the day we moved in, the hotel manager set a match to the old empty building. Because we had no insurance on the building, we lost everything. It was not until many years later that my friends told me who had been the culprit, but by then it was too late.
Reprinted from The Chinese Experience In Canada: Life Stories From the Late 1800s to Today by J. Brian Dawson and Nicholas Ting with permission of the authors.