By Alex P., Research & Publications Assistant
As covered by Jennifer Weymark in her earlier blog post, Wong Shee Soo and her husband Soo Min were some of the earliest Chinese immigrants to live in Oshawa. Soo Min came to Canada in 1902, arriving in the port of Victoria from Hong Kong. He paid the $100 Head Tax required by all persons of Chinese origin wishing to enter the country. It had just been raised from $50 the year before. This was a considerable cost, given that the average Chinese labourer earned $225 yearly in 1885.
Sometime between 1902 and 1915, Soo Min found his way to Oshawa and established a café at 4 King Street that later became known as the Boston Café. He did well enough to bring his wife over in 1917, paying a $500 Head Tax, and they went on to have nine children, four of which were born in Oshawa. The family moved to Toronto between 1921 and 1926, and directory records show that the Boston Café became a Ladies Wear store in 1926. The family later returned in 1938 to establish the Eden Inn, at 8-10 Ontario Street, between King and Bond Streets.
The question I have, is why did Soo Min come to Oshawa in the first place?
Indeed, there were small communities of Chinese emerging everywhere in Ontario at this time, like in Hamilton or London. Records show there was a number of Soos in Hamilton and London, and it is possible one of them was a relative who hosted Min when he first arrived.
Oshawa too had a small established community of Chinese laundrymen living in the area, as early as 1898. In fact, two brothers named Soo Tong and Soo Hum, had opened a Chinese laundry in Bowmanville as early as 1897. Soo Tong seemed to be a prevalent member of the community, as his goings on were often listed in the local newspaper, The Canadian Statesmen.
When his young seventeen year old son died, Soo Yen, the Canadian Statesmen included an anecdote of unfortunate death along with his obituary.
While it is unclear if Soo Min and Soo Tong were related, it is likely, given that they both chose to reside in the area and share the same Clan name. By 1921 there were a number of Soos living in Oshawa, working at Soo Min’s restaurant, the Boston Café, and in Bowmanville at a restaurant at 201 King Street. By this time both Soo Tong and Hum Soo are no longer listed, and it is reasonable to believe that they had retired and returned to China.
It’s around 1921 that the Soos appear to have moved back to Toronto. No proprietor is listed at the Boston Café in the 1924 Vernon’s Directory of Oshawa, and in the 1926 Directory the Boston Café is no longer listed as being at 4 King Street East, and instead it is a Ladies Wear store. It is unclear why the family moved to Toronto, but in 1931 Soo Min’s eldest son went back to China. Leing Soo’s C.I.9 record shows that he was born in Oshawa, but that his family now lived in Toronto, since 1921. Leing was 14 years old, and according the passenger records, he was going to Shanghai to live with an Uncle. Soo Min’s information is listed.
Leing Soo returned to Canada in 1934, and the family later returned to Oshawa in 1938 to open the Eden Inn on Ontario Street, between Bond and King Streets. Leing, going by his North American name, Robert, worked with his father at the Eden Inn as a waiter. He married a woman named Kay, according to the 1952 directory.