For approximately 100 years, from the time the community of Quesnel first developed in the 1860s, Barlow Avenue was occupied by businesses owned and operated by Chinese entrepreneurs. This area, including Front St at the Barlow intersection, was known as “China Town.” Many of the businesses were run by a number of partners, often with a family connection. Many had rooming houses above or additional small cabins on the lot, providing accommodation for the many Chinese men forced to live as “Bachelors” due to the head tax and the Chinese exclusion act. Several of the businesses relocated a number of times, due to fires or to the shift of Quesnel’s commercial centre to Reid St. We feature a few of the more prominent buildings or businesses here.
South side Barlow Ave at Front St:
(Block 2, Lot 12) The Chinese Central Café opened on Front St. in 1865
(Block 2, Lot 13): The Kwong Lee Company,1861- 1869,
The Yan War Company- apothecary and grocery store, 1869-27. One of the principle proprietors was Sing Kee also known as Chew Tip or as Yan War (after the business).
The Royal Café, 1928 – 1935. Partners include Harry Chow and George Lum, also known as Lim Wing.
The building was torn down in 1935 and a gas station was built on the site.
Behind the building on the same lot, facing Barlow Ave the Wah Lee Company erected a log building in 1914, which operated as a restaurant and rooming house. It was called the Globe Café, 1920-25. Won Kee purchase the building and reestablished the Nugget Café and Hotel here after the property across the street burned down (see below). The Nugget remained here until 1966, when it moved to new premises on Reid Street. Next, Jimmy Chow with 2 partners (Chew and Lee) managed a Chinese restaurant named CJL, after the initials of the partners. In 1971 Jimmy Chow bought out his partners, demolished the building and constructed the current premises which operated as the Green Leaf Restaurant, 1972 -2002.
The Wah Lee Company
South Side of Barlow Ave. at Reid St. ( Block 2, lot 14)
The Wah Lee Co. was formed in 1866 by 6 partners operating in Barkerville and Quesnel. They built a log warehouse, barn and store on the southwest corner of Barlow Ave and Reid Street in Quesnel. A new frame store was constructed in 1914, with an addition in 1933. The image on the left, above, depicts customers in front of the first store. This was taken by the son of one of the original partners, C.S. Wing, who operated a photography business from the store in the early 1900s, before taking over the role of manager. The image on the right dating from the 1930s depicts the second store with members of the Keen family in front.
The portrait on the left is one of the original partners, a herbalist who was known locally as Wah Lee. C.S. Wing (centre) was born in Quesnel, the son of another founding partner Chew Sing Cup. He is shown with his wife, Yip See around 1918-20. Chew Lai Keen, the son of the merchant on the left, was born in China and came to Canada in 1895. He was well educated, reading and writing Chinese and learning English after his arrival. He also trained as a herbalist. He acted as the accountant for the business while C.S. Wing was manager and had power of attorney for the overseas partners from Hong Kong. In this image he is shown with his wife and 4 of his children. In 1939 the family closed the business and moved to Vancouver. They were able to retain possession of the property and returned to Quesnel in 1947. The three sons (Charlie, Billy & Harry) opened Keen’s Grocery, later adding Men’s Wear to the business. In 1956 they built a new store at 323 Reid Street and moved the Men’s Wear business there, with a sporting goods department in the basement. In 1965, unable to compete with the chain supermarkets, they closed the grocery store, still operating from the original location at the corner of Barlow and Reid. The business has been passed down another generation and continues to operate as Keen’s Sporting Goods at 273 Reid St.
The Nugget Hotel and Café
The original Nugget Hotel and café was constructed on Front St (on Block 3, lots 1 &2) in the 1860s. It was owned by Chew Fook Guey and Won Kee. In 1911 Chow Williams Suns built the S.N Williams general store on lot 1 between the hotel and Barlow Ave. The original Nugget was torn down in 1914. Between 1920 and 1925 Won Kee operated the hotel and café from a second location (still on lot 1, but further east on Barlow, behind the SN William general store.) On June 25, 1925 a fire, which started in the Good Eats Café and rooming house on Front St, spread to the neighbouring businesses. All the buildings on the north side of Barlow between Front and Reid St were destroyed, although the assembled crowd were able to rescue the contents of most of the buildings. Within 2 weeks the Nugget was back in operation, having moved across Barlow St. to the former Globe Restaurant. The Nugget remained in this location until 1966 when it relocated to new premises on Reid St.
Gerry Fun, recalling his teenage years in the 1950s, described the low front windows at the Nugget, which allowed you to cruise around the block in your car, check out who was in the Nugget and decide if you wanted to go in.
The Hing Kee/Won Kee Laundry
From at least 1900, a laundry was associated with the Nugget Hotel and was located on the same property. Chow Man was the brother of Won Kee and operated the laundry in the early years. From 1925 – 1933 it was located on the south side of Barlow Ave and then relocated to the 300 block of Reid Street, opposite the current Post Office. Chan Bow An and his youngest son Chan Din Yuen operated the business in this location until 1946, when the father passed away. The laundry later relocated to Marsh Ave in West Quesnel. The Quesnel Museum has a number of artifacts associated with the laundry, including a scrubbing board, a mangle and the little wooden wagon used to deliver the clean laundry to the customers’ homes.
S.N. William & Co
Front St, North side of Barlow Ave (Block 3, lot 1)
The S.N. William & Co. General Store was built at the corner of Front St and Barlow Ave in 1911 by Chow William Suns, who was better known in Quesnel as Willie S.N.. Chow Wong Ming joined the business in 1916. Chow William Suns died in November 1918 during the flu epidemic. Chew Sip Poy became a partner in 1920. The business obviously prospered since Wong Ming was able to bring his wife Loo Sen and children from China in 1923. The original building was destroyed in the June 1925 fire, but the partners rebuilt immediately and reopened for business by August. During the 1930s the store added a gas pump and became an agent for Home Oil and Gas. Wong Ming’s nephew, Willie K Wong, helped run the store during the 1940s. Chew Duck Sing optioned the business in 1946 and completed the purchase January 1 1947, weeks before the death of Wong Ming. The exterior was renovated in 1952 and Chew Duck sing sold the business in 1968/9.
(Block 3 lot 23)
This image shows the cluster of buildings located on the north side of Barlow Ave west of Reid St. Choo’s Harness and Shoe Repair (on the left) operated from 1860 – 1925. The larger building on the right was the Chee Kung Tong, which is usually translated as either the Chinese Benevolent Society or the Chinese Freemasons’ Hall. It provided accommodation, fraternal assistance and a social and political centre for members of the Chinese Community. There were also a number of small cabins on the property, which at times housed a business or more often Chinese labourers. At the time of the June 1925 fire, these were unoccupied. All these buildings were destroyed by the fire. In addition the shop of Charlie Davie (Chow H. Davie), a jeweler, and C.C. Tom’s Repair shop were also lost.
C.D. Hoy General Store
( Block 8, lot 9)
The Chuie Yen Bakery, Restaurant, Laundry and Bath House occupied the North East corner of Barlow Ave and Reid St. It was owned by Sun Wo from the 1860s until 1913. He was known locally as Sun Wo Charley or China Charlie. He also owned land on the eastern outskirts of the community, where LeBourdais Park is now located, and developed a recreation ground with a race track. He returned to China and the property on Barlow was purchased by C.D. Hoy. He initially ran a restaurant and store and built a 2 storey rooming house on the property. In 1921 his Queen restaurant and rooming house burnt down. Hoy rebuilt, but pivoted the business to concentrate on selling general merchandize. The business eventually expanded operating from a series of linked buildings. In 1952 Hoy renovated, enclosing the buildings behind a single façade to create Hoy’s Department Store. The business closed in 1979.
C.D. Hoy had returned to China in 1909 to marry and by 1917 he had saved enough to bring his wife, Fun Hai Lamsee, to Quesnel. Together they raised a large family that included 10 girls and two boys. Proceeding East up Barlow on lot 16 was a stable, and the Hoy’s first family home. During the early 1930s the mining community of Wells, developed 70 kms east of Quesnel, which brought increased prosperity to Quesnel merchants. C. D. Hoy also invested in the Light and Power Company and the Lode Theatre in Wells. By 1934 he was able to construct a large stucco home for his growing family. The original home was torn down in the 1960s. The second was owned by the family until 1982. It has since housed a number of businesses including the Community Law Centre and the Vaughan Restaurant. It is now a private residence and dental clinic.