The Fong Johnston Family in Perth

A favourite tourist stop…

Harry Fong and his brother left behind their wives and children in China and arrived in Vancouver in the 1890s. They made their way east, spending some time in the prairies before continuing eastward. When Harry saw the historic town of Perth, Ontario, he decided it was a beautiful place to settle down.

In 1899, six Chinese men lived in Perth. Three were related and had the surname Fong. The other three, also related, had the surname Lung. The local Presbyterian Church gave the Lungs the surname Hamilton, and the Fongs, the name Johnston. The Hamiltons and the Johnstons were in the hand laundry business and the café business. The Hamiltons soon moved out of Perth.

In 1913, Harry got word from China that his wife had died. He returned there to find a ‘replacement’ wife. His second wife, Mabel (née Hum), eighteen years his junior, bore him a daughter, Mary. Harry planned to take his wife and daughter to sojourn abroad with him, but Mabel insisted that if she was to go, she needed company. She persuaded her husband to take along her younger brother, James (Jasper). On his return to Canada, Harry opened Harry’s Café at 59 Gore Street. Jasper was a cook there until the 1940s.

Perth, during ‘Old Home Week’, 1948. This picture was preserved in the family album of Constable Dan Lee (standing at far left). The vertical sign of Harry’s Café is visible on the right. (1948 “Old Home Week” souvenir booklet, Perth)

Harry died in 1940. Mabel took over the café. The second of their four daughters, Doris, aged 18, left secretarial school in Ottawa to help her mother. She and Mabel, with the cushion of Harry’s investments in property along Gore Street, proved to be astute businesswomen.

Of Doris’s sisters, Mary became a nurse and Lillian and Louise worked as stenographers with the federal government.

Doris (née Fong Johnston) Soong in kitchen of Harry’s Café, circa. 1960s. (Courtesy of Linda Hum) 

Harry’s Café flourished during the tourist season when cottagers and summer camps opened up. After the Second World War, Mabel and Doris expanded the menu to include Chinese dishes adapted to western tastes. Mabel died in 1966 and Doris took over the business with her husband, Howard Soong, who also had a share in the Astor Café in Smiths Falls. Harry’s Café closed in the late 1980s.

Jack Wong (husband of Lillian Fong Johnston) and cook, Danny Fong, Harry’s Café, circa. 1960s. (Courtesy of Linda Hum)

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Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong

 

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One Response to The Fong Johnston Family in Perth

  1. Pingback: Who Remembers Harry’s Cafe? | lindaseccaspina

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