Tag Archives: Wong Guy Shoe Shop
By Craig Baird
Walk down the street in Gull Lake and you will see a building that has murals of a shoe shop on it. In the mural is a man contently working on shoes. That man is Wong Guy and that building is his shoe shop, which closed in in the late-1970s and has remained in the same condition since then, complete with National Geographic’s from the 1970s. Inside the shop is a piece of history preserved in time, but what about the man who ran it?
Wong Guy arrived in Canada from China at the age of 13-years-old, working his way along the east coast and for the British Gentry in Windermere B.C. Around 1917-18, he moved to Gull Lake, a place he would call home for the rest of his life.
As a young man, he worked for Mah Jim, one of the first residents from China in Gull Lake. Jim operated a laundry and restaurant.
During that time, Wong is remembered for his bravery during the Spanish Flu epidemic that hit Gull Lake in 1918 and 1919. During this trying time, Guy worked night and day, providing food for the community and those who had lost loved ones to the disease. From this point on, he would be remembered as one of the best citizens Gull Lake ever had.
According to legend, several residents of town came to the café that Wong Guy was working at and stated they needed a cook and they told the café owner that he could either provide a cook or have his café closed down. Wong Guy stepped forward and said he was not afraid and he began cooking for those impacted with the Spanish Flu.
In 1922 (or around that time) Wong Guy bought his shoe shop that would operate until the late 1970s. The building itself had stood since about 1914 when it was operated as a restaurant. When Wong Guy took over, he turned it into a shoe shop but after a restaurant across the street burned down, he opened his place as a restaurant for the citizens of Gull Lake.
Wong Guy is remembered throughout the community for his strong personality and his interest in the people around him. His English was described as its own unique blend of Chinese and British.
For years he was a familiar person on the streets, walking and greeting everyone.
Guy’s wife stayed in China during the 1930s and 1940s until her mother-in-law passed. When she did, she journeyed to Canada at the age of 60 to join him. Their oldest son stayed in China, while their daughter went to Boston and their youngest son, Sam, came to Gull Lake in 1951.
When Wong Guy passed away in 1982, his son took ownership of the building that still stands and still houses all the shoe shop artifacts from over 30 years ago.
In 2005, Gull Lake painted several murals on the outside of the building, and fixed up the exterior, to show what many who walked down the street from 1922 to 1979 saw every day; Wong Guy working hard in his shop, always a friendly face and a smile for those he saw.
The Gull Lake Heritage Committee will be moving forward with several projects the year. Last year, the Committee received a grant from the Gull Lake Recreation Board to help replace windows and doors. The grant will be used to replace the two large windows in the front of the building. The north window will have the “Wong Guy Shoe Shop” painted on the window as it was in the original window. Remaining funds will be used to help restore the existing doors on the front of the building.
As the Shoe Shop restoration will take some time the Committee is looking at the possibility of having the window murals on the top floor restored. The group has also identified a number of other potential properties that would be suitable for heritage designation. The Committee additionally plans to open the Shoe Shop for the Canada 150 Celebration on August 19th, 2017.
Our heritage buildings provide us with important links to our past, and once restored can be re-purposed for modern-day use. The restoration of the Wong Guy Shoe Shop is made possible with the help of grants, donations, and volunteer labor. If you would like to volunteer, please call me anytime (306)672-7499. Alternatively, if you would like to contribute toward the restoration of the Shoe Shop, you can make your donation at the Town Office.
The Town of Gull Lake is very fortunate to have two very important heritage buildings in our community. The oldest heritage building is the 76 Ranch House located on Conrad Avenue was built in 1888. The second is the Wong Guy Shoe Shop on Proton Avenue was built in 1922. Both buildings have plaques fixed upon the front of the buildings highlighting the history of both.
The town is fortunate to have active Heritage Committee that identifies and evaluates properties and artifacts in the Town of Gull Lake, which have historical value and recommend action to Council.