Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Gladstone's Paris Cafe

Down by the tracks. And I mean BY THE TRACKS is the Paris Cafe in Gladstone, MB. The restaurant had been in family hands for 50 years and three generations. After all, it was the only Chinese restaurant between Portage la Prairie and Neepawa! I'd been to Gladstone a few times, visiting my uncle's mother who  lived in town. It was always a nice evening trip, and we usually ended up parallelling a CP train on the way back to Portage. We toured town and checked out the proximity of the CN Gladstone Sub, but didn't have the opportunity to stop in for a meal.

May (Toy) and Albert Louie operated the cafe in 1989. May arrived in 1961 at the age of ten. May's great-grandfather came to Canada from China to work for CN. Eventually returning to China, his son Don Toy arrived in Vancouver in 1914, to make more money than he could working in China. Don opened the cafe in 1938. What happened in the intervening years between Vancouver and Gladstone is unknown! By 1955, Don's son had come to Canada to take over the restaurant. Then, May and Albert took over in 1983. Both cooked, and May recalls no escape during busy times, having to come downstairs from the family living quarters to help out. 

In 1989, the restaurant had a non-family staff of five waitresses and dishwashers. There was discussion whether Morris Avenue, fronting the cafe was the main street in town, or whether Dennis Street, which crossed Morris a block from the Paris Cafe, was the mainer! A large trackside mural of the Eiffel Tower with 'PARIS CAFE' in large letters adorned the trackside wall, though not in this Googlemaps image:

Some customers, on their first visit, jump out of their seats when the trains pass by. This photo taken from a CN locomotive cab gives an idea of just how close the trains are to the cafe.

The larger question of why most Prairie towns had a Chinese restaurant invites inquiry. It's been widely studied by sociologists - the phenomenon has lasted the entire 20th century. Before 1900, almost all Chinese immigrants in Canada lived in British Columbia.The first wave arrived in 1858 to work in gold mines in the Fraser Valley. The second wave, 1881-85, worked on the building of the CPR. Chinese labour was cheap and plentiful. Working conditions were sometimes appalling, and these stories have been documented and commemorated

Typically, Chinese labour was excluded from an industry once conditions and pay improved: construction, logging, mining or fishing. Most non-immigrants tolerated the Chinese laundryman or cook, but not once they became their peers in other industries. Discriminatory provincial laws hastened their departure. Only the service industry remained a welcoming employment enclave. Leaving British Columbia, many of the Chines came east to the Prairies. There was little competition for restaurants, and that occupation was widely-accepted. Currency, language, lifestyle and customs all took acclimatizing on the part of both the immigrants and townsfolk. But everyone needs to eat! One example: Wong's Cafe and Confectionery, Montmartre, SK in 1985 (above).

Steven J. Brown shared these photos of VIA No 692 passing through Gladstone on August 26, 2019. The Paris Cafe is at the 'B' end of the second unit:

Marc Simpson kindly shared this photo of an eastbound freight led by GCFX 6067 which clearly shows the proximity to Paris. The Cafe, that is!

Running extra...

Bad day for trains, at least on the south track at Kingston's VIA station. CN took the opportunity to renew ballast, ties and rail in the concrete cribs at the station. The last time I documented this process was 1995, and I don't think it's been done since. Many of the ties were in deteriorating condition. Looking east to the new John Counter Boulevard overpass, due to open in seven weeks:
Excavators worked both ways from the station, grubbing out the ballast into articulated John Deere dumptrucks. The ballast was dumped at the edge of the platform. When the north track was done earlier (looks minty!), the dumptrucks actually drove down the south track and up onto the platforms, since there was no room for them on the north platform with its parking barrier. A large pile of ballast occupies the west end of the north platform, along with new ties. Watch for an update. Looking west to the Princess Street overpass:


Brian said...

Interesting post. I always enjoyed eating at the Chinese restaurant in a small town, trackside or not. So exotic!

Glad I found your blog, armchair railfanning will have to do for now, been working from home since March thanks to Covid. Otherwise it's taking the GO bus down the DVP to North York, the only rail action I get to see is the GO train at the Oriole station...

Brother up north went to Cobalt and Englehart and took photos of the ONR stations there, that was nice to see them again. I grew up in Matheson and Iroquois Falls among other places and have many ONR memories.

Eric said...

Thanks for your kind comments, Brian. Indeed, the pandemic does not affect blogging very much!

I've been to Matheson, albeit briefly. I enjoyed the scrawled messages from past eras on the bricks of the ONR station, while waiting for my connection.

Be sure to check out some of my brother's recent posts on his Rolly Martin Country blog.


JasonPaulSailer said...

Prairie towns and Chinese cafes go hand in hand! I have had many a fine meal in the small prairie town cafes. Not that close to the tracks like the Paris Cafe mind you ;)

Eric said...

Indeed they do go together, Jason. I have missed out. During my elevator journeys, it was usually fast food i.e. the Weyburn McDonald's. Though I must look up my dining choices in Davidson and Rosetown, SK!

Sounds like a postscript!
Thanks for your comment,