Harry (Po Sing) Lim, the fourth son of a head tax payer, was born in Victoria in 1899 to a Chinese labourer who worked in a coal mining camp. Harry married in China and returned to Canada with his wife, Jung See, and moved east. Over a period of seven years, until the mid-1920s, Harry would run a succession of restaurants in Toronto, Elmira and Hagersville.
In those years, Harry’s father asked him to take him back to China. The entire family went. While in China, Harry’s wife gave birth to their fourth and fifth children, Nell and Margaret. When time came to return to Canada, because of the Exclusion Act the Lims had no choice but to leave behind both daughters.
In 1929, the couple settled in Carleton Place with their Canadian-born children, Mary, Allan and Bill. Harry bought the New York Café from its Chinese owners. The couple’s sixth and last child, Kay, was born in Carleton Place.
In 1940, Harry died of tuberculosis. His widow stepped in and carried on running the café. So that her children could continue in school rather than dropping out to work in the café, Mrs. Lim hired married women in town to help. They, in turn, were happy to be working.
The café benefited from the patronage of soldiers who, on their way north to Camp Petawawa, had to change trains in Carleton Place.
Allan, keen to contribute to Canada’s war effort in the Second World War, joined the RCAF in 1942 at aged 18. He was the only Chinese in his group of 27 pilot trainees. He was in Ottawa awaiting a posting to the Pacific theatre when the war ended. He went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto and then joined the federal government. His brother, Bill, a chemical engineer, married Evelyn Yip, one of the few Chinese women to serve with the Canadian navy.
The story of the Lim family had one sad chapter. Upon the repeal of the Exclusion Act in 1947, Mrs. Lim hoped to re-unite with her daughters born overseas and bring them to Canada. Sadly, during the war she’d lost contact with them. She was unable to locate them.
In 1951, Mrs. Lim sold the New York Café and moved to Toronto. In 1960, fire destroyed the café. Its owners did not rebuild.
Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong