Author: Unknown

Publication Date: 2005

Edited: 2021


"He was a stranger in a strange land and the nurses and physicians sympathized greatly with him in his affliction as they were not able to understand or fulfill his orders."1


The Canada we know today was built through the efforts of immigrants. From its early beginnings, each wave of newcomers added its own character. They brought their culture, their hopes, and their prejudices. Each wave was greeted with a measure of uneasiness by the group that came before them and was faced with opposition from established organizations including government officials and labour groups.


Guelph, mirroring the national picture, was no different in its acceptance or rejection. Over its periods of growth and decline, it saw the arrival of Irish, Scots, English, Germans, American Blacks, Poles and Austrians, Chinese, Japanese, Italians and other ethnic groups that combined to create its multicultural society. In the beginning, Guelph was dominated by the Scots, English and Irish. Increased industrialization altered the character of the growing community, and immigration subtly influenced its culture. Blacks, fleeing the Civil War in the United States, were the first visible minority to appear in Guelph; the next group to make an impact were the Chinese.


The Chinese arrived in Canada in 1858, taking part in the Klondike Gold Rush. They also formed part of a labour force imported to build the national railroad, work in the mines and act as low-wage labourers.2 Most remained in British Columbia, but many ventured into the rest of Canada. Ontario cities and small towns became their new home. Here, they established small businesses, working in the only fields open to them - restaurants and laundries, hoping to make more than a living, to earn the price of a return ticket to China or enough money to send for family members.3


Historic Guelph V44P68


When the first Chinese arrived in Guelph in 1884 or 1885, they did not remain long. Economic times were tough. They left in July 1885, taking their laundry services elsewhere.4 The next attempt was in 1891, when 23-year-old Sam Kee set up his laundry business on Wyndham Street. Kee's existence must have been a lonely one. He was married, his wife back in China, and here he was in Guelph, not only the sole Chinese person in town but also the only Buddhist.5 His stay, not surprisingly, was brief and the city remained without a Chinese hand-laundry until in 1894 Wing Lee opened his business in Kee's old premises.6, 7 Both Wing Lee and Kee were typical representatives of Chinese immigrants of the time. Male, single or married-bachelor, a term applied to those whose wives were in China, these 'Celestials' took the only business route open to them in small town society.8 Outside of British Columbia, Chinese were found, "Almost exclusively in the laundry, grocery and restaurant business."9 Writing in 1909, the social reformer, J.S. Woodsworth, stated:


"In the Eastern provinces, the Chinaman is generally in the laundry business. There are about a thousand in Toronto, nearly that many in Montreal, and about seven hundred in Winnipeg, while nearly all the towns have a few of these 'Celestials.'"10


Wing Lee was soon joined by his own relatives plus Lee Lee and Sam Lee Hing. Lee and Hing established their own laundries, making a life for themselves and their relatives in Guelph. They and their fellow countrymen gravitated towards the city's downtown, setting up their businesses in St. George's Square and on Carden, Woolwich, Wilson, Wyndham, Macdonell, and Quebec Streets. In fact, on April 6, 1915, the City Council acknowledged this proliferation of laundries by placing boundaries on their location, restricting their placement to the Downtown core.11 It was here the Chinese were to remain, living above or next to their businesses well into the 20th century.12



The arrival of 55,747 immigrants in 1901 increased Canada's population to 5,371,315.13 British-born immigrants were being outnumbered by a host of other nationalities.14 By 1914, this figure had grown to 750,484; but access to Canada was curtailed during World War I, and figures remained low until 1919, when the number of immigrants increased to 707,698.


Although Clifford Siftoru and his successors in the Department of the Interior, encouraged this immigration during the early 20th century, they wanted only certain types of 'foreigners'. To enforce their perception of desirable immigrants, the Immigration Act of 1906 (Bill 170) was put into place.15 It first defined the word 'immigrant,' then barred certain nationalities or stated the ethnicity that an immigrant must have before gaining entrance.


Later amendments provided exclusive power to Cabinet to regulate the volume, ethnic origin, or occupational composition of immigration. Certain Orders in Council also imposed taxes on all immigrants: the figures varied with Great Britains' paying $25 a head and the Chinese first $200, then later $500. In 1923, the Federal Government enacted what became known as the Exclusionary Act, restricting Chinese immigration to officials, merchants (excluding laundry, grocery, and restaurant businessmen) and university students. These constraints were not lifted until after World War II.16


In 1901, Guelph had a population of 77,496. This included two Italians and 10 Chinese. Until 1911, the Chinese were all engaged in the hand-washed laundry business. Sam Lee Hing's laundry on St. George's Square advertised in a 1902 Guelph Mercury, and a 1904 Ontario Agricultural College Review (OACR). These ads say volumes about the individual editors. The OACR ad read, "Me Want your Washeel Do it Quickee!"17 This is a direct contrast to the straightforward Guelph Mercury advertisement assuring customers of the cleanliness, efficiency and care taken by his laundry. Hing wanted to dispel the myth that Chinese laundries were not as clean as their white counterparts. Continual scrutiny by Guelph's Health Inspector ensured that all laundries maintained Sam Lee Hing's standards. Wing Lee almost died in his attempts to kill off bugs. A rumour erupted that murder and mayhem were occurring in his laundry. Closer investigation revealed that while using a pesticide, he had applied too much, almost dying from the fumes.18 Guelph doctors soon put him right. The paper remarked that Lee was one of the Celestials that 'blessed' the city and provided satisfactory service. Nor was it alone in its perception of the Chinese. In 1911, the Chief of Police, after an inspection, declared the Chinese residents of Guelph to be good, law-abiding citizens.19


Historic Guelph V44P70


By 1912, there were approximately twenty-three Chinese calling Guelph home.20 The numbers are hard to estimate, since the Chinese always opened their doors to relatives. Like the Italians, they worked hard to earn money to send back home or to bring relatives over. This ensured the wherewithal to continue running a business. For example, in March 1910, the paper noted, "Another member of the local Chinese colony arrived... and took up his residence at Sam Lee Hing's laundry." The name is not included, nor are the two residing at Lee Lee's in 1902, the seven at Sam Lee's in 1904 or the nine at Yung Lee's in 1905. In fact, many of the Chinese who lived in Guelph for this period will remain unknown, their names unrecorded. Some facts, however, do remain. Sam Lee Hing liked his chosen home enough to become naturalized. In a time when female Chinese were scarce in Canada, Guelph had at least one. On April 7, 1910, Wing Wong's wife, possibly Lucy Wong, gave birth to a healthy, and, according to the paper, 'handsome child,' in their home business on St. George's Square.21 Wing Wong later set up his own OK Laundry at 8 Carden where it remained well into the 1940s. Wing Wong, also a British subject, owned his property and rented it to other laundrymen, selling it in 1936 to R. Embro. The OK Laundry relocated its premises temporarily to Macdonell Street before returning to its original address.


The OK laundry was not unique. Providing a 'Canadian' name for this type of business was not unusual. While many laundries were known by the operator's name, others were listed and advertised as the 'Hasty Laundry,' 'OK Laundry' and 'Ontario Laundry.' This attempt to adapt to their new home and the marketplace was even more prevalent in restaurant names: the British Columbia Cafe, the Grange, the (Chinese) Dominion Cafe, the City Cafe, Central Cafe, and the Star Cafe.


Historic Guelph V44P71


The number of restaurants increased as the demand for hand laundry dwindled. It was self-employment, enhanced by low risk factors and a low initial investment. The family system provided multiple partners for sharing risks, costs and labour.22 By 1911, the Dominion Chinese Café had opened on Wyndham Street. The owners were George Hamilton and George Thomas. By all accounts, it was well-patronized by Chinese and non-Chinese alike. George Hamilton was even interviewed by the Guelph Mercury in 1913, about Chinese sentiment towards Russia's acts of aggression against China. He emphatically described Chinese-Guelphites' support for the cause, stating how contributions were made at his Café and elsewhere, to fund the war effort.23 After Hamilton left, George Thomas and his brothers, Hem, Yat, Chow and Yuen ran the Café until 1938. When George Thomas was murdered in Toronto in 1926, the Fergus New Record remarked, "He was highly thought of by his patrons."24 The same was said of the proprietors of other cafes, notably the City Cafe and the Central Cafe. In 1923, when two former proprietors of the City Cafe returned from a trip to China, they brought back gifts to several of their 'local friends,' giving china sets to W. A. Mahoney and Aaron Austin, among others. The paper described the brothers, Mi Ming and Beck Jones, as 'well-liked.'25


The restaurants appealed to different segments of Guelph's population. The Dominion Café had an, "Up-to-date cafe and banquet hall," and in 1932 claimed to give special attention to Private Parties. The Star Café, under T. Chong, featured 'private dining rooms' and provided 'prompt service.' Under Wong & Company, hours were extended, and an orchestra played regularly for the diners' pleasure. The City and Central Cafes were more concerned with service and food, the latter claiming to, "Cater to Ladies and Gentlemen."26 It was only the British Columbia Café that served Chinese and North American-Chinese food. The B.C. Café introduced Guelphites to Chinese cuisine, while providing Guelph Chinese with more traditional food.


In addition to restaurant cooking, Guelph inhabitants could purchase Chinese food at a grocery store. 44 Cork Street became the home for Chinese shoppers from 1922 to 1930. Another shop later existed on Macdonell Street. Such venues acted as gathering places, sometimes with surprising results. Chinese games were often seen as, and frequently were, forms of gambling. The Guelph police raided the shop on Macdonell in 1917 and the Chinese involved were taken to court. On May 15, 1914, some of Guelph's youths demonstrated their racial prejudice when they chucked a dead cat through the window of a laundry. The police intervened, and two of the six boys were fined five dollars plus costs, and two of them were fined two dollars plus costs. All were threatened with a stay at the Ontario Reformatory if they committed another offence. In another case, a Guelph officer made several college boys go back and pay their bill at a Chinese restaurant after they had skipped out.27 In yet another, after a Chinese man was beaten up and generally abused by two Guelph men, Joe Dodds and George Goge. Constable McElroy had no difficulty in arresting them. When they appeared before Magistrate Watt, they were fined five dollars and costs each and also required to pay the doctor's bill.28


Sometimes, immigrants had problems concerning bylaws. In 1974, Charles Wong and Shew Wah were charged with not having laundry licences. They paid up and the matter was dismissed. In 1976, Harn Yung was brought before the court for not having a licence. He defended his actions, stating he had tried to obtain one, but was denied by officials since his laundry was located outside the designated area. His lawyer noted Yung had rented his premises before the bylaw was enacted. The judge, in this instance, redirected the matter to City Council. In the end, Yung's laundry remained, joined a year later by Chang's Laundry. In fact, Council often granted licences directly to applicants. At a meeting on May 17, 1915, Fred Fong's request for a licence for his premises at 13 Quebec Street was moved by Alderman Newstead, seconded by Alderman Crawford, and carried.


The Guelph Trades and Labour Council (GLTC) had little to say about the Chinese at this time but were upset when they scabbed during the OAC waitresses' strike of 1903. A year earlier. the matter of 'patronizing Chinese laundries,' had been brought up for discussion. After much deliberation, a simple resolution was tabled, "That union men be urged to see that the label of the Shirt Waist and Laundry Workers appears on all laundry work given out by them, and that this matter be brought to the notice of the different locals."29 At no point was there even a suggestion that the Chinese join a local union, or form their own association. A stronger and overt prejudice asserted itself only during World War I. At the January 9, 1918 meeting of the Council, a resolution was passed, "Protesting against the importation of Chinese labour at this time for either farm or industrial work; and further protesting against the importation of any enemy labour into Canada, and copies were ordered sent to Premier Borden and Hon. Hugh Guthrie." Probably because of their small number, the Chinese were never perceived as a serious problem.30 Guelph citizens at all levels and the GTLC were more vocal against other 'aliens' in their midst, specifically the Italians.


However, personal prejudice still existed against the Chinese into the 1930s. In 1935, the owners of the British Columbia and Star Cafes were taken to court for employing white waitresses. The judge tossed out the case, stating it was not against the law. Subsection 1 of Section 28 of the Factories, Shops and Office Buildings Act of Ontario stated, "No Chinese person shall employ in any capacity or have under his direction or control any female white person in factory, restaurant or laundry," however, Subsection 2 stated that Subsection 1 did not come into force until the Lieutenant-Governor named a day. It was never to be enacted.


In spite of the prejudice, many Chinese did not leave Guelph until the hard times of the 1930s. They developed a small community, providing the city with goods and services. Some students direct from China attended OAC, staying, meanwhile, with Guelph citizens. The Chinese continued to dominate laundries and run restaurants. Several remained for decades in Guelph. The Wing Lee Laundry, opened in 1894, continued to operate until 1942 under various Lees. The OK Laundry passed through several hands, but survived into the 1950s, its owner, George Lee, joining the new pattern by living outside the Downtown core, away from his business.


What then did the Chinese contribute to their community? They brought to Guelph a new culture, and through their laundry and restaurant businesses provided much-needed services. Food constituted a large part of their cultural contribution - usually Canadianized, but Chinese nonetheless. They were early components of Guelph's gradually changing ethnic character, and thus an influence on Guelph citizens' realization that all cultures and races could be good Canadians.



Name of Business Address Years People Involved
Quan Bing & Juan Lee Laundry 8 Carden



Bing Lee
Juan Lee
Nean Lee

British Columbia Cafe 52 Carden




Alex Lee
Sam Lee
L.K. Choy (manager & proprietor)

Restaurant 52 & 54 Carden


Chin Chong

Central Cafe

67 Wyndham

71 Quebec





C.Y. Lang or Kamung Juing
Arkhong or Lee (Leu) Kong

Chan(g)'s Laundry

29 Paisley

1916 - 1920/21

George Chan(g)

Lloyd Chin Laundry

69 St. George's Square


Lloyd Chin

City Cafe

71 Quebec St.



pre 1923



W. Chong
J. Chong
Jones Mi Ming & Jones Beck
Lee Hoy
Arthur Young Lee

Dominion Cafe(Chinese)

98 Wyndham

104 Wyndham




G. Thomas & George Hamilton

George Thomas (d. 1926),
Hem Thomas & Yuen Thomas George Hamilton? Yat Thomas & Chow Thomas

The Grange Restaurant

152 Wyndham



Y.D. Lee
Ings Hoin


44 Cork




Henry Wong Chong Wing Yuk Wong

Hasty Laundry

341 Macdonell


Lee Yip

Lee Hing Laundry

West Market Square (Wilson St.)


Lee Hing

Sam Lee Hing's Laundry

St. George's Square

70 Wyndham



Sam Lee Hing Kee Lee (1901) Nom Lee (1901) Yo Lee (1901)

Sam Kee Laundry



Sam Kee

Lee's Cafe

45 Macdonell



Lee Yeo

Kuey Lee

Lee Lee Laundry

62 Wyndham

152 Woolwich



Lee Lee
Long Lee Laundry

16 Wilson

8 Wilson



Long Lee or Lee Long

Sam Lee Laundry

44 Cork


Sam Lee

Shong Lee Laundry

146 Quebec


Shong Lee

Wing Lee Laundry


Lee Wing Laundry

62 Wyndham


Wing Lee,

Sam Lee & Stan Lee (1895)
Gow Lee, Woy Lee & Lu Lee (1901)

Wing Lee Laundry


Lee Wing Laundry

 57 Quebec St.





Hing Lee,

King Lee & Kim Lee
Hen Lee & Kim Lee

Lee Wing

 Lem Brothers Laundry  34 Quebec St.


Lem Brothers

 O. K. Laundry

See Wing Wong

 8 Carden

17 Macdonell



Wing Wong, Young Wong &
Charles Wong
Lee Nun

 Ontarion Laundry  13 Quebec



Wong Wah &
Sing Hum
Sing Hum & Tom Yen Wing Wah & Sing Hum

 Lee Shew's Laundry  34 Quebec  1908-1909   Lee Shew
 Lem Shu Laundry  146 Quebec  1914-1915  Lem & Shu
 Sam Sing's Laundry

 118 Macdonell

146 Quebec



 Sam Sing
Leon Sing's Laundry 32 Macdonell 1922-1941 Leon Sing
Tom Sing's Laundry 34 Quebec 1909 Tom Sing
Star Cafe 106 Wyndham







T. Chong
Wong Company

Jack Ghee
Sam Chow
S.E. Daniel, Sam Sing, Ing Sing, W Chan Sero Young & Lee Hing Syrup (Sam) Seit &

Sam Chow

Suey Wah's Laundry

16 Wison

8 Wilson


Suey Lee & Wah Lee

Chong Wing Grocer 44 Cork


Chong Wing

Charles Wong's Laundry

65 Wyndham

102 Wyndham

101a Quebec St.




Charles Wong

 Beck Wong's Laundry  8 Wilson  1928  Beck Wong
 Wong Sing Laundry  109 Market Square (Carden)  1901-1913  Lee Chee
 Henry Wong Grocer  44 Cork  1922-1924  Henry Chong
Jack Wong's Laundry 8 Wilson 1939-1949 Jack Wong

Wing Wong's Laundry

(Later OK Laundry)

8 Carden





Wing Wong, Young Wong & Charles Wong Lucy Wong (1922)

Jan Lee

Lee Wong

Louie Yen Laundry 416 Quebec 1916 Louie Yen
Young, Wong and Co. 70 St. George's Square 1908-1939

Charles Wong, Chung Wong & Yung Wong

Yuen Store 3? Macdonell 1917 Yuen
Young Wong Laundry 44 Cork 1933-1936 Yung Wong
Ham Yung Laundry 17 Paisley 1916 Ham Young




  1. Written concerning the death of Young Ho, a Chinese laundryman from Palmerston who died at Guelph General Hospital in 1895. Guelph Mercury.
  2. Yee, Paul. Struggle and Hope: The Story of Chinese Canadians. (Toronto, 1996), p.10-12.
  3. Wickberg, Eric (ed.). From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Communities in Canada. (Toronto, 1982).
  4. Chinese were living in Guelph in the late 19th century. The local paper remarks on July 15, 1885: "The Chinese laundrymen have packed up their baggage and left Guelph to try new pastures. The washer business was not good enough."
  5. Information derived from the Census, 1891, and the Assessment Rolls, 1890-1894. GPL.
  6. He is sometimes referred to as Lee Wing; however, since the people residing with him and listed as relatives called themselves Stan Lee, Sam Lee, Gow Lee and other Lees, I have chosen to refer to him as Lee Wing. The records of the time use both forms.
  7. The directories, assessment rolls and local newspaper gave his name as Lee Wing and as Wing Lee, making it difficult to decide what surname he followed.
  8. Guelph newspapers constantly refer to the Chinese in the city as 'celestials.' This was not an unusual practice as the subsequent quote from Woodsworth indicates.
  9. Wickberg, Eric (ed.) From China to Canada, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, p. 92.
  10. Woodsworth, I. S. Strangers within Our Gates, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992, p. 142.
  11. City of Guelph By-Law 1188 amended By-law 1059 does not appear to be racially motivated. The Guelph Steam Laundry and other "white-operated laundries" were also located here.
    Later amendments related to licence fees. GPL Archives.
  12. The first Chinese known to live apart from his business was Jack Wong. In 1947, George and Beatrice Lee, who ran the OK Laundry, resided at 14 London Road.
  13. See Canada Year Books for the appropriate year, as well as the 1901 Census.
  14. Total British immigrants were 3,063,195. Asiatics numbered 23,731. In 1901, 70,834 were Italian; 10,947, Austrian; 2,994, Belgian; 6,285, Polish; and 1,549, Hungarian.
  15. For an excellent overview of immigration policy see Valerie Knowles Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and lmmigration Policy, 1540-1990. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1992.
  16. Li, Peter. Chinese in Canada. 2nd edition. (Toronto, 1998).
  17. OAC Review, 17 (2), 1904.
  18. Guelph Mercury, January 6, 1906.
  19. Guelph Mercury, December 4, 1911.
  20. These numbers are culled from the AR, Guelph City Directory (GCD), appropriate years, and the Census. The local paper often contributes a name.
  21. Two points: 1. An S. S. Wong and Co. bought out Hing's business in 1908. Wing seems to be part of the consortium; and 2. The problem with names resurfaces with Wing Wong. He sometimes is listed as Wong Wing, particularly in the AR. As in the case with Lee, all other residents at his address, including Lucy, have an anglicized first name followed by Wong.
  22. Li, 57.
  23. Guelph Mercury, February 3, 1913.
  24. Courtesy of Charlotte Mackie, Woodlawn Cemetery.
  25. Guelph Mercury, July 5, 1923.
  26. Guelph Mercury, February 2 & 5, 1914; and March 15, 1915.
  27. Guelph Mercury, April 16, 1908.
  28. Guelph Mercury, April 7, 1916.
  29. Guelph Mercury, October 13, 1902.
  30. The Chinese were seen as a larger threat to labour in British Columbia. There, they had established a community - a Chinatown.



Canada Year Book, various years.

Guelph. Assessment Rolls (1890-1939). GPL Archives.

Guelph. City By-Laws. 1913-1920. GPL.

Guelph. City Council Minutes (1915-1916). GPL Archives.

Guelph City Directories (1890-1941). MF, GPL.

Guelph Daily and Weekly Mercury (1884-1939).

Labour Gazette, various issues.

Li, Peter. Chinese in Canada. 2nd Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Mackie, C. E-mail courtesy of the Woodlawn Cemetery.

OAC Bureau of Records (1905-1939). University of Guelph Library Archives.

OAC Registrar: Education Statistics, 1898-1939. UGA.

Tan, J. and P. E. Roy. The Chinese in Canada. Ottawa: CGHS, 1985.

Wickberg, Eric (ed.). From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Communities in Canada. Toronto: Mclelland & Stewart, 1982.

Woodsworth, l.S. Strangers within Our Gates. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.

Yee, Paul. Struggle and Hope. The Story of Chinese Canadians. Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1996.