'It’s the end of an era': Local landmark Golden Dragon Restaurant sign taken down
SASKATOON -- Watching the removal of the neon Golden Dragon Restaurant sign on Monday morning stirred up several emotions for Maylane Wong, from sadness to a feeling of being at peace.
“It’s the end of an era,” she said, adding the sign will be headed to storage. “But my dad always was a positive person, he always encouraged us to see the good in everything, so I’m seeing that when there’s an end, there’s also a new beginning.”
The removal of the sign comes nearly 62 years after her father Bing-Lam Der first opened the restaurant on June 7, 1958. Der immigrated to Canada with his father when he was just 12-years-old, settling in Young, Sask., before moving to Watrous to open the P.O. Cafe.
“I guess maybe it was the post office building or something before,” said Wong, placing the opening to the late 1940s. Der then moved his young family to Saskatoon where he opened the Golden Dragon.
“When we were young, dad would always be at the restaurant working long hours,” said Wong. “Actually, we hardly saw him. But then when I was old enough to help at the restaurant, help him in the office, I was privileged to work alongside him, and he patiently showed me the ropes, and even allowed me to be handling the money as a cashier at the front.”
The restaurant became a focal point of Saskatoon’s culinary scene, largely due to it’s owners, Der and his wife Sue Kim, said Wong.
“Whenever customers had a special request, dad and mom would always try to accommodate them,” she said.
“The Jewish people would always want kosher food, they loved pickerel and we would always prepare it the way they liked it. There were people from the Seventh Day Adventist community, and they would sometimes bring their own vegetarian ingredients, and we would incorporate it into Chinese dishes for them. I thought that was really neat, that mom and dad did that.”
The reputation of the the Golden Dragon grew, with the bright neon sign and unique Chinese cuisine attracting many high-profile visitors to leave their autographs in the guest book.
“Former Prime Minster John G. Diefenbaker and his wife Olive,” recalled Wong. “It was great, I remember meeting Harry Bellafonte, he came to the restaurant after performing at the Centennial Auditorium. He was a really down to earth guy, and we had a nice chat.”
Wong says her most cherished memories were helping her mother, Sue Kim, prepare food in the kitchen, “peeling shrimp, making wontons, and in the very early days, cutting french fries using this old-fashioned french fry cutter,” she said.
“Working with my dad, because he was the most patient guy. His generosity and hospitality, and I guess Prairie spirit. He grew up in China, but his teenage years were spent in rural Saskatchewan.”
Der and his wife ran the Golden Dragon until their children, Maylane and her siblings Ken Der, Jean Wong, and Yvonne Ng took over in the early 1980s.
“I was privileged to witness how wherever dad went, and I was with him at those times, whether it was at the ladies curling banquet, or shopping downtown or at the exhibition, pionera, people would always stop and say hi to him, and he would always stop and chat a bit,” said Wong. “I was always very proud to be his daughter.”
The building, which was most recently home to The Hollows Restaurant, is scheduled to be demolished at the end of September, and Wong says as of right now, the family doesn’t have any plans to re-open the Golden Dragon.
“There are all kinds of ideas on the table,” she said. “We’re going to take our time, maybe grieve our loss, and then meet again with the family to determine the next steps.”