Monday, April 20

Chinese Merchants in Cupar

According to The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan there were 41 Chinese in the province in 1901, and in 1911 there were 957. These immigrants were heavily discriminated against. The Federal Government imposed a head tax in 1885 of $50 and increased it in 1903 to $500 which was equivalent to 2 years wages. One exception were merchants. 

It is a bit of a cliche to say that many prairie towns had either a Chinese laundry or cafe owner. Very little is known about them and therefore it is difficult to appreciate the role they played and the hardship they endured having left their families behind.

In the Census for Cupar in 1916 I found a John Lee, Methodist, Laundryman who came to Canada in 1900. In the Cupar Herald of 1935 I found mention of Sam Lee doing hand laundry and Ben Lee proprietor of the Cupar Cafe.

Why did this come into my mind? Well, as we were reorganizing our displays at the museum we decided to put all our local cookbooks together in the kitchen exhibit. We found a very battered cookbook donated by Charlie Rein with a note saying “came from cafe maybe Jim Lee” 

 I found it sad, that it had been defaced and not treated as the treasure it was. It is more than a cookbook, it gives well used phrases in english and chinese for day to day use, and to this point appears to be the only artifact we have.

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