Back row L-R: Chow John, owner of the Trail Café, his wife Mabel holding their son, Richard Tem Dick Chow; family matriarch Rose Lee holding Penny Chong (née Lee), and her sister Pearl with the bow in her hair. Front row L-R: Helen Pang (married and became Helen Lee, mother of Gordon Lee of Rock Island in downtown Trail), little girl unknown, and Bill Lee (standing). Photo: Trail Historical Society

Back row L-R: Chow John, owner of the Trail Café, his wife Mabel holding their son, Richard Tem Dick Chow; family matriarch Rose Lee holding Penny Chong (née Lee), and her sister Pearl with the bow in her hair. Front row L-R: Helen Pang (married and became Helen Lee, mother of Gordon Lee of Rock Island in downtown Trail), little girl unknown, and Bill Lee (standing). Photo: Trail Historical Society

Trail Blazers; Setting the record straight

Trail Blazers is a weekly historical feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives

The greatest bonus in writing for the Trail Times is meeting our readers.

Case in point happened this week after our Nov. 26 historical feature on Page 18, “Trail Blazers: The Savoy Café and a founding family,” prompted a few emails from the Lee family and a phone call.

The 1927 photo of Lee Chiang Kai – aka Lee Sing – standing behind the soda fountain counter was correct, but some information in the story was not. There is uncertainty about Mr Lee paying the head tax when he arrived in Vancouver in 1909. The original story stated that he did, however the family has not found a head tax certificate.

It was the family of his wife Rose, born Rohda (Rhoda) Chow, who for certain did pay a $500 head tax upon her arrival in Canada on Jan. 2, 1913 when she was only two years old. (Rose’s mother was Canadian-born, her father was not.)

Rose Lee’s Head Tax Certificate 2 Jan 1913. Photo: Trail archives courtesy Penny Chong

Rose Lee’s Head Tax Certificate 2 Jan 1913. Photo: Trail archives courtesy Penny Chong

And the caption under the photo showing several people (inset) was not correct in the first publication. Some members of the Lee family are present, but father Lee Sing is not in the photo.

In 1927, Lee Sing opened the Savoy Café in downtown Trail. This photo is undated, but was likely taken in the 1930s or early 1940s. Photo: Trail Historical Society

In 1927, Lee Sing opened the Savoy Café in downtown Trail. This photo is undated, but was likely taken in the 1930s or early 1940s. Photo: Trail Historical Society

These inadvertent errors led to interesting and informative email exchanges with Sing and Rose Lee’s daughter Penny Chong (née Lee) who now lives on the coast, and a wonderful telephone conversation with her brother Bill Lee, who lives in Kamloops. Penny was the first to see the story online, and while she says it was a heartwarming surprise, it was somewhat incorrect. Thanks to Penny and Bill, this compelling historical photo, taken during a social gathering in late 1940 or early 1941, now has the correct information attached. And this connection to the Lee and Chow families has inspired ideas for future Trail Blazers features.

Read more Trail Blazers: The Serenaders of Song Archibald’s Aircraft Iconic image emerges from a muddy road



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