Leip Lor came to Brockville, Ontario in 1910 at age 12 to rejoin his father, Lor Jock Wing. Leip’s father, a fishmonger, had left China for Macau, and from there, went abroad to Cuba. At the urging of a fellow villager from China and a laundryman in Brockville, he left Cuba for Canada. He established the Kwong Sing Laundry in Brockville, and then sent for Leip. Like his father, he too paid the head tax upon entry to Canada.
Leip subsequently visited China to wed in an arranged marriage. Back in Canada, sadly, he learned that his wife had died, shortly after giving birth to a daughter.
Rather than live again separated in marriage by exclusion, Leip asked a missionary friend to help find him a wife in Canada. Through the church, Leip was introduced to Agnes Young, whose widowed mother ran the New York Café in North Bay, Ontario. Agnes’ parents, both born in China, had arrived in North Bay from Montreal (their first-born son was the first Chinese male born there), and before that, Boston, where her father had been a merchant. Agnes, born in North Bay, graduated from high school and worked as a secretary in an insurance company there. In contrast, Leip had an eighth-grade education.
For the next year, the two corresponded as pen pals. Agnes would later tell her children that she was reassured knowing that he was a Christian.
The couple married and four months later, in 1930, they opened the New York Café at 19 King Street West in Brockville. In that same year, Leip formed “Lor Leip & Company.” The company owned his café and held a share of three other cafés of the same name, started and managed by relatives in nearby Morrisburg, Gananoque and Prescott, along the St. Lawrence River.
Leip and Agnes raised five children: Alice, Ruth, Valerie, Joe, and Gloria. Leip’s daughter, May, born to his first wife finally came to visit Canada at the age of 35, and met her father for the first time. Among the Lor childrens’ interests and achievements, Alice went into nursing; Ruth, with a degree in social work, became a writer and photojournalist; Valerie, a teacher and high school principal and keen historian of the Chinese in Toronto; Gloria would skate with the Ice Capades; and Joe would remain working at the café until 1960, before going on to a career in engineering. He would return to help run the restaurant in the 1980s.
The Lors’ café, with a reputation as a place of sophistication, attracted tourist traffic from New York State and from steam trip passengers taking trips up the St. Lawrence River. Of cafés along Highway 2 between Toronto and Montreal, it was the only one with white linen tablecloths. Valerie (née Lor) Mah recalled the café’s sophisticated menu: “Unlike most every other Chinese restaurant, [we] sold raw oysters, broiled lobster, frog legs, and even bear steak.”
Leip died in 1958 and his widow and family took over the café. Joe, the only one of the Lor siblings to remain in Brockville, said that by the 1970s most of the staff were non-Asians. However, he noted that “it was very difficult to teach non-Asians to cook Chinese food.” In 1985, the Lor family sold the business.
In 1984, the Brockville Chamber of Commerce named Agnes Lor, who was admired for her quiet strength of personality, as ‘Citizen of the Year’ for her work in the community, including helping those in need and in establishing a women’s network. She died in 2001.
Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong