Silver Dragon, Scarborough

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Perhaps it is childhood fondness, or maybe it really was the best, but the Chinese food at the Silver Dragon Restaurant lives large in my memory and I have yet to find its equal. So today, in honour of the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dragon, I bring you a snippet about this restaurant which was a staple for all who had connections to West Hill.

Located on the north side of Kingston Road near Manse Road, the building that came to house the Silver Dragon restaurant was once the White Oaks Snack Bar owned by Mr. & Mrs. William Howitt. They sold it in 1955 to Jim Tayler who ran it as Tayler’s Drive-in until 1959.

Hong Ning (Jim) Chau – I can still hear my grandfather’s voice loud and clear in my mind talking about good ol’ “Jimmy Chow” – was born in Canton, China in 1931. Trained as a cook for a wealthy tailor in Canton, he came to Canada in 1950, leaving his wife Donna (Mow Dan) and daughter in China as only male Chinese immigrants were allowed into Canada at that time. He worked for three years in restaurants across small towns in northern Ontario and Quebec until his wife was able to join him.

The Chaus moved to Capreol, near Sudbury in 1954, minus their daughter who had to remain in China until 1965. In Capreol they opened Chow’s Cafe, featuring Canadian food including hamburgers (twenty cents) and full-course meals (sixty-five cents). The couple left Capreol in 1959 after the death of their 16-month old child.

The Chau’s moved south to West Hill, Scarborough, bought the Tayler’s Drive-in property and opened another restaurant, selling Canadian food again. Over time, more and more customers requested Chinese food and by 1963 the restaurant featured Chinese dishes. Jim Chau suffered a heart-attack in 1974 and turned over the day to day operations of the restaurant to his family but remained a prominent figure in the business.

The Silver Dragon burned down in late January 1984 but it was rebuilt in a bigger building at the same location and re-opened later that year. At the opening celebration there was an eye-painting ceremony for the dragons on the front wall and a dragon dance to ward off evil spirits. With the same cooks rehired, the restaurant continued to be a successful enterprise, run by the Chau’s sons Kim and George, until 2005 when it finally closed after 46 years in operation.

Hong Ning Chau died on 22 May 1986 and was buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. His grave was not listed on Find a Grave, I have now rectified that and will need to visit for a photograph soon. As of this writing, February 2024, it appears his wife is still alive although their eldest daughter Deepwan (Jenny), also a familiar face at the restaurant, passed away in 2019 at the age of 68.

I have such fond memories of eating at the Silver Dragon and ordering in from here – countless family dinners with my grandparents. For a time I’m not even sure I knew it was called the Silver Dragon, my Grandpa always just said “Let’s order in from Jimmy Chow’s” and in those days long before on-line ordering, my Grandma would go pull out the red, black and white take-out menu from a drawer.

I also have a ridiculous memory of my uncle David mixing some bizarre drink concoction at our table with soya sauce and other condiments and laughing so hard. That must have been before the fire, I was about seven or eight years old. In it’s later reincarnation, I remember having a family meal here after my great-aunt Eileen’s funeral in 1997 – we chose the place knowing she would have enjoyed it.

Tonight we will order in to celebrate the Lunar New Year, from a pretty decent place near us called the Spring China House. Since I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll probably order my favourite childhood dish of sweet and sour chicken balls. But no matter how good they are, it just won’t compare to the now almost legendary, in my mind at least, Silver Dragon food of my youth.

Unfortunately, despite the relative significance of this restaurant to my family and others from West Hill, there aren’t many photos available of the Silver Dragon. I don’t personally have any that I know of, and Facebook groups where people reminisce fondly about the restaurant, are also pretty devoid of pictures. I’ve scoured the newspaper archives too and come up with very little. Here’s what I could find and I’ll add more when, and if, more turn up.

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I have been interested in history for almost as long as I can remember. My mother and grandfather took me to see the King Tut exhibit at the AGO in 1979 when I was six years old. An interest in “Dead Canadians” might seem a far distance from ancient Egypt, but not really when you consider that both relate to the study of funerary practices and remembering the deceased.

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