The Roy-York Cafe

Street Address : 271-273 Princess Street
Period : 1900-1950

The famous Roy-York Cafe operated for many years, first opening in 1927. The Roy-York stood out on Princess Street for its façade that featured a large awning, with modern lights illuminating the restaurant’s name.

William Lee opened the Roy-York in 1927 with three other partners. He had immigrated to Canada in approximately 1920, arriving by boat in Victoria, British Columbia. William Lee worked as a house cook in Victoria before moving eastward across Canada. First, he settled outside of Toronto and opened a steamed laundry shop while planning his move to Kingston. In 1927, William Lee was able to move to Kingston, an ideal city for his restaurant business venture. The Roy-York remained in business for thirty-eight years. However, in the spring of 1947, it was consumed in a fire. This started when a painter, hired for renovations, threw a match into a container of paint remover. The building was quickly consumed in flames and William Lee escaped but was left with singed face, hair and arms. The Roy-York was subsequently rebuilt and remained on Princess Street until 1965.

Restaurants were extremely important in the Chinese community. Along with laundries, the majority of Chinese immigrants flocked to the restaurant business. As previously mentioned, employment within the service sector was sought by Chinese immigrants in order to avoid competition with their non-Chinese counterparts.

Advertised as “Kingston’s Finest & Most Modern Restaurant”, the Roy-York catered to Kingston’s non-Chinese population. At this time, Kingston’s Chinese Restaurants did not openly display their ethnicity. In fact, all Chinese restaurants catered to the non-Chinese population. They had modern names that reflected British heritage; their decor was British and their menu’s feature Canadian food with only a limited selection of hybrid Chinese-Canadian dishes. The restaurant’s façade was large and very modern at times, with neon lights illuminating the restaurant’s name and metallic handles on the door. The restaurant also advertised live music and dancing with the Fort Frontenac Orchestra every Saturday on the second floor.

Return to Chinese History Map