Helping care for her grandson Toby Shepherd is just one of the things Amy Wong is looking forward to when she retires at the end of this month.

Heart of our city: Amy Wong meets challenges head on en-route to retirement

In 1965, if you asked newly-arrived Amy Wong if she ever imagined retiring in Prince Rupert, the answer would likely have been no.

In 1965, if you asked newly-arrived Amy Wong if she ever imagined retiring in Prince Rupert after more than four decades of running a business on the North Coast, the answer would likely have been a resounding no.

“I was a teenager when I came from Hong Kong. When I came here, the first thing I told my mom was that I wanted to go home because it is only trees here … it was so quiet,” recalled Amy, noting just how different life on the North Coast was from life in the city.

“We lived in an apartment and in that apartment there were six families in a flat. When we get off school we would take the bus home and that was it. We couldn’t go anywhere.”

While life in Prince Rupert for Amy, her parents and her siblings was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, that by no means meant it was easy for the family.

“I went to elementary at Roosevelt, but didn’t speak much English. It was difficult, but I survived,” she said.

“I went from Roosevelt straight to Booth Memorial to senior high, but had to quit in Grade 10 because English was not my first language so the grammar was tough. My math was near the top, but I was almost 20 in Grade 10 so I quit and went to hairdressing school in Vancouver.”

It was upon her return from the Lower Mainland that Amy met the man who would become the love of her life, Gene. The two were married when Amy was 22 years old and 43 years later still share their lives. But like many young couples, starting a life and family of your own presents its own challenges.

“I was working at the Crest and Gene was working at the Imperial and it didn’t work out. I would do the morning shift beginning at 6 a.m. and finishing at 2:30 p.m. and then he would work at the Imperial from 3 p.m. until sometimes 3 a.m.,” Amy remembers.

“What kind of life is that?”

When word of a restaurant coming up for sale reached Amy and her husband, the two jumped at the chance to further put down rooots in the community they had come to call home.

“Our daughter, she doesn’t talk very much, but one day said ‘daddy go, daddy go’ telling him to go to work. He just said, ‘daddy isn’t going to work over there anymore. We started our own business’,” said Amy of the start of what is now Fairview Restaurant.

“We started in 1973, around April, at the Fishermen’s Co-op where McMillan is. We were there in 1973 in a smaller building way at the back by the reduction plant. Two or three years later they built a restaurant outside where the parking lot is and we were there for more than 12 years.”

With the fishing industry in full swing and no shortage of money making its way through the streets of Prince Rupert, it was a steep learning curve but one that the Wongs met head-on.

“It was a very stressful place to work because they were plant workers. There were 200 to 300 people working at once and if you had 100 people going there you were swamped. And they only had 30 minutes for lunch, so in 10 minutes we had to serve everything … after 10 minutes they go, we clean up and then it is coffee time and they come back,” she said.

“My mind was working like a computer because you don’t have time to write bills. You just remember who ordered what … I would serve the plant workers first, fishermen second and the public last. People didn’t like the idea, but we had to get the staff back to work.”

Everything was going fine and business was booming, but a new manager at the plant in 1983 meant the handshake deal the Wongs had with the plant was coming to an end. With only three days notice to leave and outstanding debt, the Wongs considered a move to Vancouver but couldn’t make it work.

“In the daytime I was running the restaurant and I would go to the cannery and work there during the night,” said Amy of how hard the couple worked to pay off debts.

“The following year my youngest was born and we decided to stay here because it is the best place to raise children. We now have five children.”

In 1987 Fairview Restaurant opened in its current location. Through the good and the bad, including being taken to court by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and being overcharged $18,000 by the city for garbage services, the Wongs found they always have a strong support network in Prince Rupert.

“I have had good people to help me. Friends offer to help me and there are three people whose friendship and support really stand out. Dana Dirkson, he’s a fishermen who has moved to Quadra Island but he went to court with me … Bob Gruber and Don McNeil are also two guardian angels,” said Amy, noting friendships and business certainly do mix.

“I still have a lot of fishermen from the co-op who come here. I don’t know how I’m going to survive without seeing them.”

With their last days at Fairview Restaurant coming at the end of the month, the Wongs have no plans of leaving the city — or their young grandchildren — behind.

“It’s just time to go, but I will be staying in Prince Rupert … I like Prince Rupert, I’ve been here for 48 years,” said Amy, who has also spent more than three decades helping the local Chinese Association.

“My entire life is in Prince Rupert.”