The George and Molly Lee Wong family in the garden behind Wong’s restaurant off Sydney Street, c. 1937-38. Children as written in album: Joyce, Henry , two unidentified. Courtesy of Bill Wong and the Antigonish Heritage Museum. Restoration: Anne Louise MacDonald
Recollections of Kevin Chisholm, born in 1940, eldest son of R. Leo and Irene Chisholm, and Brother of Shaun, Estelle, Jim, Anne, and Eileen:
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, “Leo’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlour” was a very popular hangout. It had a classic “Soda Fountain,” ceiling fans right out of Casa Blanca, booths, and at least in later years (late ‘40’s), had a Juke Box. Leo was a “fishing friend” of Charlie Wong, George Wong’s visiting countryman.
George’s children, Willie, Henry, Ray, and Mary Rose, were several years older than I was. Charlie was a very jovial man, always with a chuckle and smile on his voice. He was also a very big man, almost as tall as Dad, but with a heavier build. Dad took Charlie and me on many fishing trips. Regrettably, Charlie had poor English, and I did not get to know him very well.
As far as I know, George Wong introduced French Fries to Antigonish. Dad used to get a bunch of the partially cooked fries, bring them home, cook them, and we would have “real French Fries, just like at Wong’s.” Wong’s was “The Best Big Meal Restaurant” in Antigonish for many years. In particular, in the 40’s, it seemed compulsory for all deer hunters to lay their prize deer on the wide fenders, park on Main Street, and come into Wong’s for a “Victory Dinner” during the Hunting Season.
A story of the Wong Restaurant as told to Jocelyn Gillis, Curator, Antigonish Heritage Museum by Mary Rose Wong in June, 2014:
In the early 1960s, her father (George) was involved with a major anniversary of the Antigonish Highland Society. [1963 was the 100th anniversary] Her father prepared a float that year for the parade and with planning and presentation advice from artist Angus “The Beard” MacGillivray, a regular at the restaurant, decorated the restaurant in tartans. The Nova Scotia tartan had recently been created. Many patrons to the restaurant inquired as to the identity of the tartan and one of the waitresses suggested that it was McWong tartan. This came to the attention of the Scots in town, and a select few demanded that George Wong remove the tartan from the restaurant. When they made an appeal to the Highland Society executive to reprimand Wong, long time member, Ernie Gourley, countered with the motion that George Wong be made an honourary member of the Antigonish Highland Society. The motion passed with one nay.
Mary Rose describes the tartan display as vertical lengths of tartan hung from ceiling to floor. On each of the tartans a shield and lance motif in silver were displayed. On one other tartan was the gold-coloured Chinese character for Wong.
Excerpt from Historic Antigonish Town and County (Laurie Stanley-Blackwell and Ray MacLean, 2004, p. 100).
In April 1930, George Wong leased a portion of the Kennedy and MacDonald store on Main Street [the Kirk Building side] as the site for his café. … The café was fitted with a dozen small tables and some cubicles. Patrons were impressed by the linen tablecloths, silver plate cutlery, and crystal. When the café opened, the first day’s receipts went as a donation to St. Martha’s Hospital. … The need for a larger space prompted the move across The Main in the early 1940s. In the back yard, close to Sydney Street, was a garden, which supplied most of the needs of both the family and the restaurant. Here the café became a popular landmark, earning the reputation as “one of eastern Nova Scotia’s best known eating houses.” A devastating fire in 1961 claimed two lives, George Wong Jr., [known as Junior] and countryman Charley Wong, and left ten people homeless and the restaurant in ruins. Rebuilding began almost immediately. From the 1930s on, George Wong’s family served as the base from which he welcomed some of his kin and countrymen and re-established connections with his village in southern China.