VISIONS EYECARE BUILDING / FORMER LINDA MAE BLOCK
The mid-century sign structure was added to the rooftop.
Schematic rendering of the residential home that stood here, according to the footprint indicated on the 1911 fire insurance maps.
With Georgina (Jo) Poon Lee (Arline Koo and Chong Him Poon’s daughter, OWNERS OF LINDA MAE'S) & George Lee
+ What’s your story?
Jo: I was born in 1933 in Calgary and lived in Chinatown until I married George in 1960.
At Linda Mae’s, I was a part of the staff. My grandparents came over to Canada and my mother was born in New Westminster, BC in 1913. The family moved to Calgary in the 1920’s.
George came to Canada in 1951. George was hired as a waiter for the coffee shop, working part-time.
Then he met me. Our parents were friends from a long time ago. Later, he worked as a manager upstairs.
Doug Wong’s grandfather and my father (Chong Him Poon) were partners working in the WK Restaurant. Chong Him Poon moved across the street and started the New China restaurant in the late 1940’s. Arline liked curios and they used to have the little gifts at the New China before they opened Linda Mae’s gift shop.
Jo, George and Jo’s mother, Arline Poon. Photograph courtesy of Jo Poon Lee.
+ When was this building constructed? What was on this land before this building was built, and how was the land acquired?
Can you tell me about the history behind the building’s design development and about the construction process?
Before Linda Mae’s, there was an old house, a boarding house.
Chong Him Poon and Arline built Linda Mae’s. They bought the boarding house and built the building around the time Linda Mae was born; it must have been around the late 1940’s.
Doug Reid was the contractor / builder; they worked with him to build this. He was a friend of the family.
The coffee shop and gift shop was built before Linda Mae’s Lotus Garden was established. It was office space rented out to other folks. It was around 1953 – 1954 that Linda Mae’s Lotus Garden was opened.
The New China restaurant in the Canton Block (1960s) and Linda Mae’s (1960s). Photographs courtesy of Alison Jackson and the Glenbow Archives & the Poon family.
+ What was the decision behind the building’s design? Do you know of any major renovations or changes to the building since it was first constructed?
Renovation took place in 1953, when it first became a restaurant. The major change was the additional signage. Neon Sales designed the signage. The second renovation (of the latest photos of Linda Mae’s) took place around 1965.
In the first renovation, the offices were converted and Linda Mae’s Lotus Restaurant was added on top.
Linda Mae’s closed down in 1976 (after Arline passed away). New owners took it over and then closed it down after a few years.
[Architect Clem Lau worked on the renovation of the “building with the circle window on Centre street”, which is now the former Linda Mae’s and the new U & Me building.]
+ What was the interior of Linda Mae’s like?
There were two counters and the window had a row of booths. There was an ice cream fountain.
Arline ran the gift shop, which was open seven days a week. There was “mostly oriental items…” There were two mannequins with cheongsams, ivory, packets of tea, cloisonné, chinaware, fabric and giftware.
The Poon family in front of the building and vintage postcard of Linda Mae’s Coffee Shop. Courtesy of the Poon family.
+ What about the restaurant upstairs?
We had a few curios, but the dishes went downstairs in the dumbwaiter, and the food came up in the dumbwaiters. There were booths on the side and tables in the centre of the dining room.
+ What kind of food was served?
We served Western-style food, like pancakes and burgers and also a menu for Chinese food (chow mein, sweet & sour chicken, almond chicken, etc…) in the coffee shop. In the Linda Mae’s Lotus Garden, there was only a Chinese food menu and it had a liquor license.
+ Are there any particular memories you’d like to share?
Jo: There was a lot of work. But everyone in the family helped out in anything that needed to be done.
+ Who came to Linda Mae’s Coffee Shop?
Anybody walked in, like employees from Calgary Power, or local Chinese folks. Everyone came, including Caucasians and Chinese. All were welcomed.
Courtesy of Jo Poon Lee.
WITH CAROL & JASMIN POON (FORMER CHINATOWN RESIDENTS AND GREAT NIECES OF CHONG HIM POON)
+ Tell me about your family’s story.
We grew up in Chinatown, where we lived at Chong Him and Arline Poon’s home. In 1967 we moved to the NW because the James Short School was slated for closure in the late 1960’s — so everyone started leaving Chinatown and moving out. Although we didn’t, most people moved up Centre Street where the bus route could still take them back to Chinatown easily. We still came to Chinatown every day until the early 1970s. We went to regular public school in the NW, then Chinese school in Chinatown every school day. Then we ate dinner with Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles, and cousins. After dinner we went back to our house. On weekends, we came down for church at the Chinese United Church. Our Aunt Jo drove us down every day.
My dad’s father (Bak Mee Poon) was the #7 son. He came to Canada on August 9, 1918 on the Empress of Japan. Because of the Canadian immigration laws, he could not bring a wife to Canada so he went back to China to get married and had a son.
Jasmin & Carol Poon at our interview session at The New Gallery, 2020
When he came back to Canada to work, he couldn’t bring his family with him. He left China when our Dad was 2 years old and passed away when Dad was 8. When Dad (Allen G.H. Poon) was 11 years old he was orphaned in China and stayed with other relatives until his uncle, Chong Him, brought him to Canada when he was around 18 years old. He worked at the New China and lived with them. When it was time for Dad to get married, arrangements were made for Mom (Shirley) to come to Canada from Macau. They got married in 1959, 13 days after Mom arrived in Calgary. Allen and Shirley had 3 kids.
Chong Him was #4 son. Even though Chong Him was technically our great uncle, we only knew him to be our Grandpa and Arline, our Grandma.
After Mom and Dad were married, they lived with Grandpa and Grandma and other aunt and uncles in the fourplex. Dad first worked at New China then at Linda Mae’s, which were both owned by Chong Him. He also owned the Imperial Palace which was outside of Chinatown.
Chong Him passed away 1971. Arline passed away in 1976.
Photograph captions (left to right):
1.) Allen G.H. Poon with his mother, circa 1937. Photograph courtesy of Carol Poon & the Poon family.
2.) Arline and Chong Him Poon, 1967. Photograph courtesy of Carol Poon & the Poon family.
3.) Inside Linda Mae’s Gift Shop. Photograph courtesy of Carol Poon & the Poon family.
+ What was the gift shop like?
It was full of stuff. From a kid’s perspective, it was Toy Land with all sorts of neat things. They sold fireworks, jewelry, knickknacks and Chinese clothing… vases, pottery and slippers… and incense. It was packed… and the back was Grandma’s office. The office led into the back of the restaurant kitchen.
There was a dumbwaiter… that we all rode in!
Then there were the stairs to downstairs, where there was a big walk-in fridge, a huge prep kitchen and a big noodle machine. There was a cooking area to make egg roll and wonton wrappers, where the potatoes were peeled, the shrimp were peeled, where the french fries were made…
On the main floor was the kitchen. Mostly women worked in the front of house and the waiters were mostly men.
As for the coffee shop layout:
There was an ice cream machine. There were booths with jukeboxes and a back area. 1950s and 1960s music played on the jukebox.
+ What kind of food was served?
In the coffee shop, there was pie, coffee, butter horns, pastries… but also sandwiches. There were turkeys… burgers… soups… sandwiches. My dad made lots of pies, like banana and coconut cream pie, cherry pie, apple pie…
People smoked indoors.
At Linda’s Mae’s Lotus Garden, we served egg foo young, wonton soup, chicken noodle soup, beef noodle soup… egg rolls… deep fried shrimp in rings like a donut. There were sweet and sour ribs, dried ribs and chicken wings, chicken with mushroom, beef and broccoli, chop suey and chow mein…
Arline and Chong Him Poon at Linda Mae’s gift shop. Photograph courtesy of Jo Poon Lee & the Poon family.
At the front door of Linda Mae’s gift shop — Jasmin and Carol Poon, Dana Lee. Photograph courtesy of Carol Poon & the Poon family.
+ Who came to the restaurant?
Mostly Caucasians ate in the Lotus Garden. All types of people came to the coffee shop.
At the New China Restaurant (across the street from Linda Mae’s) all the Chinese banquets were held there.
+ What was Chinatown like at the time?
It was a residential community. Families and friends all knew each other and kept a watch out for each other. In my memory, it was a very close-knit community.
+ What do you think Linda Mae’s meant for the Chinatown community?
Linda Mae’s was a hub and starting point for many people. Regardless if they were new immigrants or Canadian-born, many people had their first jobs there. The Linda Mae’s Lotus Garden restaurant and the gift shop were the places many non-Chinese people had their first experience with Chinese food and culture. Most of Chinatown and the greater Calgary community knew Chong Him and Arline Poon because of the Linda Mae’s, New China and Imperial Palace restaurants and strong community involvement.
Carol Poon’s diagrammatic floor plan of Linda Mae’s coffee shop, drawn from memory, 2020.