Jennie Howe’s Cheongsam Dress, c. 1920s
Jennie Howe and her husband “Charlie” Wong Get Howe established the Star Café in Marcelin in 1923. Jennie and Charlie immigrated to Canada as children. They met and married in Vancouver in 1918 and had two children, David and Pearl, before moving to Saskatchewan.
As he grew up, David immersed himself in Marcelin life. He served as Mayor for three years and later received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. Known as “Mr. Hospitality,” David operated the Star Café for 79 years. He even added a store to the café, selling televisions and radios. When it closed in 2002, it was Marcelin’s longest-running business.
David’s sister Pearl became a nurse, married, and moved to London, Ontario. David himself never married. He explained in a newspaper interview that there were no single Chinese girls in the area and mixed-race marriages were “frowned upon” at the time.
A Labour of Love
David Howe recalled that in its early years the café was open 16-20 hours a day, seven days a week. Christmas Day was one of their busiest days as they served many church attendees before and after services.
Despite facing competition from five other eating establishments in Marcelin when they opened, the Star Café did well until the Depression. By 1933, the Howes were facing overdue bills from angry suppliers. Charlie and Jennie considered selling the restaurant to pay their debts.
David, who was 12 at the time, contacted a lawyer working out of Prince Albert, John Diefenbaker. Diefenbaker helped the family negotiate a payment plan to their suppliers that allowed them to keep the business and pay off their debts. 24 years later, Diefenbaker was elected Prime Minister of Canada.
Something Old, Something New
Jennie kept this and other Chinese garments her whole life even though she normally wore western-style clothes. Jennie was a Saskatchewan woman, mother and community builder. Her dress reminds us of the complexities of migrating from one world to another.
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