SILVER DRAGON
1973-1974

Architects: Cutforth Technologists Limited

RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS
1911 / 1961

Schematic rendering of the residential home that stood here, according to the footprints indicated on the 1961 and 1911 fire insurance maps.

Interview
WITH ANNETTE FUNG (FAMILY OWNERS OF THE SILVER DRAGON RESTAURANT)

+ Tell me about your story. How long have you and your family been in Chinatown?
My father had been here since 1954 and worked as a chef with the Poon family. He joined my grandfather, who came before. We (the rest of the family — two daughters and his wife) arrived in Canada in 1965 from Hong Kong.

There used to be a big house with a few suites where the Harry Hayes building is now, and we rented one of those suites. There was a garden there, so as a kid I remembered my parents grew vegetables. We liked it; there was a big yard to play with. It was nice.

 

+ How did Silver Dragon come to be?
What have been the different locations of Silver Dragon?
In 1966, my father decided to open a small restaurant. It was located in 206B Centre Street in the Canton Block). He rented the upstairs unit, which was a 30-40 seater space (one bay of the building). Eventually he expanded to an 80-seater (2 bays) in the same building.

In the early 1970s, I believe we introduced the first dim sum to Calgary. Back then, Vancouver was the only place to go for dim sum. We hired a crew who immigrated from Hong Kong. Back then as a child, we all helped with the family business. Dim sum was all hand-made, so I remember making the shrimp dumplings.

My father introduced a lot of traditional Cantonese dishes, like steamed minced pork and oyster sauce chicken. As time evolved, he expanded the menu. In 1988, we opened a Silver Dragon in Banff — my sister runs that one, and I run this one.

Annette Fung in front of the Silver Dragon Restaurant, 2020.

+ What was Chinatown like then?
There were a lot of tongs — associations for social gatherings — and a lot of single men were here. After work, they didn’t have anywhere to go and didn’t have great English, so they gathered in Chinatown. There were many musical societies and mahjong places.

Capital Centre may have been a musical society before Raymond Chow moved in. There was another small grocery store on the Canton Block. Kin Sang Grocery was a more complete one which also sold BBQ meat. Golden Inn used to be King Ying, a small eatery that was run by an elder lady homemaker. She used to make homemade dumplings and baos.

+ When was this building constructed?
In 1973, this new location was built. In 1974, Silver Dragon moved into this location and we were the first tenants. Back then, everyone knew everyone… My father and the owner knew each other.

+ What was on this land before this building was built? How was the land acquired?
There used to be some old houses. The parking lot (next to 5 Harvest) used to be residential — small houses. My grandfather lived there. Before refrigeration, my grandfather used the cold air outside his window to store leftovers.

Peony and Ben Wong were the names of the owners.

+ Who is the architect for this building?
Cutforth Technologists Limited in Calgary.

Ground floor plan and 2nd floor plan for Silver Dragon’s second location and new building. Courtesy of Annette Fung.

+ Can you tell me about the history behind the building’s design development and about the construction process?
The original design had the restaurant in mind.

In the Area Redevelopment Plan (ARP) in 1986, there weren’t policies about “Chinese motifs” being required beforehand. Even if it wasn’t required, our original signage included two dragons in neon. Back then, Chinatown seemed more vibrant — coming down Centre Street, there were big vibrant signs for the W.K., Silver Dragon, New China…
 

+ Do you know of any major renovations or changes to the building since it was first constructed?
Back then, the front entrance had planters. We removed this later on to create a clearer pathway to the door. Originally cars could drive through and park underneath, before this area was enclosed sometimes in the 1980s.

The 3rd Avenue facade used to be all masonry. In the 1990’s, we added skylights on the roof, carved out new windows and enlarged existing windows to allow more natural lighting into the restaurant and better views to the streets.

Just a few years ago, the sandstone facade was restored in the Canton Block.

+ What was it like growing up in Chinatown and at the restaurant?
I went to the James Short Elementary School, and often frequented the grocery store located where the current Hing Wah bookstore is to buy Mo Jo candies.

The restaurant is our second home. We came after school and on weekends to help out.

In the first location in the Canton block, there was a small window in the back dishwashing area, where you could look outside… some days we would see the sun rise (or light fragments from it). Back then in the old days, we didn’t close until 3AM, so when you were done cleaning up, you would see the new day’s light as morning arrived…


+ Who came to the restaurant?
In the original restaurant — there were mostly Chinese locals.
 

+ What did the restaurant serve?
Our menu has grown to be over 200 items —  some of the old items from back in the day remain on our menu, but new items have also been incorporated in.

The window by the rear dishwashing area in the old location of the Silver Dragon restaurant (Canton Block), where Annette and her sister would watch the sun rise as they washed dishes on busy nights.
CURRENT DAY BUILDING PHOTOGRAPHS

Photographs taken in 2020.