This is an excerpt from a more detailed research report by Terry Skillen that is available at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum— This story is from the Heritage Carleton Place site— It is a site that you can spend hours on.
The Lim Family, Proprietors of The New York Café
Mr. Lim Po Sing, who adopted the English name Harry Lim, was born at Victoria B.C in 1899. He came to Carleton Place in 1929 with the intention of establishing a restaurant business. His wife and their two children, Allan and Bill, returned to Canada from China and arrived in Carleton Place late in 1930. Harry took over the New York Café located in a two storey clap board building at 95 Bridge Street next to the Royal Bank of Canada. The building was owned by Oscar Okilman. At one time the building contained a clothing store called the House of Fashion. About 1926, Mr. Lee Wah rented the building from Mr Okilman, converted it into a restaurant and called it the New York Café, a name that evoked the atmosphere of a classy, big city establishment with catered to people with good taste.
The name was well-deserved as a respectable establishment with a Canadian menu. The clapboard was removed from the front of the building and a very attractive set of double doors with clear glass windows was installed. Attached to the doors were panels similar in size to the doors that contained stained glass windows. Above the doors and panels were three elaborate stained glass windows. The entrance door was flanked by two large windows that allowed ample sunlight into the dining area. A window of similar height was positioned at the front corner of the cafe facing the bank. The curtains covering the lower half of the front windows of the cafe were a deep gold or gold/brown colour. A long exterior awning provided shade for the west facing front of the cafe. Upon entering the cafe, the patrons would see booths in front of them and to their left. A long counter ran almost the full length of the right wall. There were ten booths, five along the length of the left wall, four in the centre (think of a cross with a booth in each quadrant) and table #10 was a long family booth in the back right hand corner, beyond the counter.
Harry Lim was the second Chinese tenant of Mr Okilman’s building. He placed advertisements in the Carleton Place Canadian to announce the opening of the cafe under his management in May 1929. Harry was competent in the English language; his wife, Lim Jung See, was unable to speak English. She did not usually work in the restaurant. Mr. Lim was both the manager and waiter of the small business. He worked long hours in the cafe, six days a week. The cafe was not open on Sundays. Mr. Lim would go into Ottawa to purchase produce for the cafe. The children were called upon to contribute their labour when they were old enough. Lim Po Sing spoke English well and without any accent. The family spoke mostly Cantonese amongst themselves, but all of them spoke English in their interactions with customers. Harry employed a Chinese man to do the cooking. The menu was mainly Canadian, no Chinese dishes. The clientele was drawn from town, from all walks of life, including people from the surrounding towns and rural areas, especially when there was a hockey, baseball or basketball game on in town. Patrons of the movie theatre across the street came in following a showing. During the Second World War people in army uniforms came into the restaurant because soldiers changed trains in Carleton Place, on their way north to Petawawa.
Kay, the couple’s third child was born on 13 February 1931 a few months after her mother and brothers arrived in Carleton Place. The eldest child, Mary, remained with relatives in Vancouver until she arrived in Carleton Place at age eleven in 1934. Mary did not speak English when she arrived in Carleton Place. All of the children when living in Carleton Place attended local schools. They did very well academically. Allen and Bill attended University of Toronto and graduated from the faculty of engineering, Kay graduated from University of Toronto and became an Occupational therapist; she married a Chinese engineer. Mary completed grade thirteen at Carleton Place and attended University of Toronto until her father became ill; she withdrew from school to assist her mother. Eventually Mary married a Chinese-Canadian engineer.
The Lim family lived above the cafe during their stay of twenty-two years in Carleton Place. They had to be frugal as did almost everybody in Carleton Place during the years of the Great Depression. The family’s living quarters included a living room, washroom, three bedrooms, even an outside veranda, but no kitchen. There was no need for a separate private kitchen, since it was quite easy to go down stairs and use the large (family) table for all meals where food and dishes were at hand. The building, up and down, was rented from the Okilmans, who owned the dry goods store near the bridge. There was adequate heat upstairs from the small wooden stove in the living-room but there was no air conditioning. It was hot during the summer day-time with nice breezes through the windows in the evenings. A veranda along the south side of the second floor of the building was accessed from the living quarters over the restaurant. The veranda faced the side of the bank next door; it was not easily viewed by those walking along Bridge Street. There were three windows along the front of the apartment. Two windows to the left of the large New York Cafe sign that extended from the building were for the living room. The single window to the right of the sign was for the master bedroom, as was the window around the corner facing the north side of the bank.
Mr. Lim contracted tuberculosis; he was successfully treated at the Ottawa Civic Hospital and discharged home. He contracted pneumonia during the post-operative (pulmonary) period while still recovering at home. His condition deteriorated and he was hospitalized again at the Civic Hospital in Ottawa. Mr. Lim died on Monday April 8, 1940 in his 41st year. Mrs. Lim had worked minimally in the restaurant prior to her husband’s death and spoke little English when she took over the business. Mrs. Lim carried on the business with essentially the help of a cook and the four children. Allan was not yet sixteen and in grade ten when his father died. Allan decided that it would be best if he left school after his sixteenth birthday and helped his mother at the café. Each morning one of the children typed up the menu for lunch and dinner. A regular menu was always on each of the ten tables in the cafe. Other duties assigned to the children were correspondence and business telephone calls including the placing of orders for supplies. Mrs. Lim hired local women to work in the restaurant. These women became wonderful friends of the family. The Lim children took turns helping also.
Mrs. Lim hired employees from the town as each of her children departed for university in Toronto. Some of the employee’s surnames were Mrs. Tom Whelan, Mrs. Majaury and Mrs. Van and their first names Joyce, Margaret, Ethel and Jacqueline (Jackie). Not all, but most of the women hired by Mrs. Lim were widowed like herself. Their shared marital status helped to form a bond of friendship in the kitchen. Mrs. Whelan shed tears when Mrs. Lim announced that she would be moving away. They learned to communicate rather well in spite of the language barrier. After her husband died, Mrs Lim had increased contact with the townspeople, those who patronized the café as well as those who came in to the kitchen to visit and chat with her. She was always friendly and welcoming to all. There was always a pot of Chinese tea on the table.
Mrs. Lim carried on the family café business until departing Carleton Place in 1951 when she returned to Toronto where she and her husband had established their first restaurant business and where members of her family were residing. She died in Toronto on 10 March 1980 at the age of seventy-nine. She was laid to rest with her husband in the Chinese section at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa on 14 March 1980.
The ownership of the cafe was taken over by a partnership. In 1960, the New York Cafe was destroyed in a fire as was the Olympia Restaurant, in the next building, where in the 1920’s Louis Laskaris had the Olympia Candy Store. In 1958, James Laskaris sold the family business to Jim Antonakos. Howard Little’s Barbershop located in the building was also destroyed in the fire.
In 1961, Jim Antonakis constructed a one storey building on lots 9 and 10 in Section D where the New York Cafe once stood. The Olympia Restaurant was re-opened in the new building. In 2011, the building is still standing but the restaurant has been closed for over a decade.
Tilting the Kilt, Vintage Whispers from Carleton Place by Linda Seccaspina is available at Wisteria at 62 Bridge Street, the Carleton Place Beckwith Museum in Carleton Place, Ontario and The Mississippi Valley Textile Mill in Almonte. available on all Amazon sites (Canada, US, Europe) and Barnes and Noble
Carleton Place- The Happiest Damn Town in Lanark County
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