James (Jack) Hum arrived in Ottawa in 1914 with his wife, Kung (her maiden name). By 1921, the year that Jack and his partners opened the Ontario Café at 66 Rideau Street, the couple had three children. A fourth, Joe, was born at that address in 1922. Upon Kung’s premature death three years later, Jack took his four young children—a daughter and three sons—back to China and married for a second time.
Over the next decade, Jack would travel between China and Canada three times, the last time accompanied by his eldest sons, Thomas and Charles. In 1934, Jack died suddenly in Ottawa and the running of the Ontario Café fell to 19- year-old Thomas. In 1936, Jack’s widow in China sent Joe, aged 14, to Canada, to re-join his two brothers there.
One of the busiest weeks at the Hum brothers’ Ontario Café was in May 1939, during the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Thomas would eventually hold shares in several cafés—including the Arcadia Grill at 249 Bank Street and the Ho Ho Café at 248 Albert Street—and as well, a trading and investment company, Allied Trading. His business partner was William Poy, who had entered Canada with his family in 1942 as refugees from Hong Kong (his daughter, Adrienne Clarkson would become Canada’s 26th Governor General). Both men had business and social connections predominantly outside the Chinese community and beyond Ottawa.
Jack Hum’s three sons married and raised families in Ottawa. Their sister, Jessie, who had married in China in 1935, later moved with her husband to Prince Rupert, B.C. Thomas had a wife in China, but re-married in Canada to Lois, who was white. Charles, the soda fountain manager at the Ontario Café, later managed the Arcadia Grill. In 1954, he died in a car accident, leaving a wife and four young children.
Joe graduated with a degree in Commerce from McGill University. According to his unpublished memoir written decades later, newly graduated and looking for his first job, Joe heard a discouraging refrain from potential employers: “Everywhere I went, I was told that my qualifications were either too good or not good enough.” Finally, Lawrence Freiman of A.J. Freiman Ltd., a department store on Rideau Street next door to where Joe had been born at his parents’ Ontario Café, took him on as manager of accounts payable.
In the 1950s, at Thomas’s urging, Joe and his brother-in-law, Eric Cheung, bought 31 Restaurant at the corner of Bank Street and Heron Road, which catered to construction crews working on the new Alta Vista subdivision. The partners later re-named the restaurant Marco Polo Tavern Restaurant. A noted restaurateur and business leader with success in the insurance and mutual funds businesses, Joe was also a competitive bridge player and perhaps above all, an avid hockey fan.
Copyright © 2012 Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre and Denise Chong