Norman Chin (Chin Shee Ping): Father. Grandfather. Restaurant owner. Sports fan. Born Oct. 11,1932, in Guangdong Province, district of Toi San, village of Wo Chong, died Feb. 4, 2019, in Toronto; aged 86.
Norman Chin’s life was the quintessential Canadian success story. He studied art in China, but cut short his education at 18 to move to Canada and join his father, who ran a café in Toronto. At that time, it was a difficult move because of Canada’s $500 Chinese head tax.
He continued his studies and learned English at school. He began his restaurant career by busing at his father’s diner, working his way up to become, in 1957, one of the original partners of Sai Woo restaurant in Toronto.
Norman fell in love with his wife, Joyce Moy, by writing letters to her in Hong Kong, while her family waited to immigrate to the United States. They married in Hong Kong in 1958 and she soon joined him in Toronto. Their first child, Janet, was born two years later, and five more followed: Gordon, Sharon, Dick, Susan and Judy.
Norman’s family would enjoy midnight feasts of food brought home from Sai Woo, one of the first large-scale Chinese restaurants in the city, employing 120 people. It played host to so many wedding receptions that Gordon says, "As a young boy I thought this was how everyone lived; having numerous grand feasts every few weeks.”
Many celebrities were said to have dined there, including Danny Kaye, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Red Skelton (who sent a bouquet of flowers the next day), Ronnie Hawkins, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Pierre Berton and Sam (the Record Man) Sniderman were both regulars. Norman was nicknamed the “Cary Grant of Chinatown.”
Highly respected, Norman was also president of the Chin Wing Chun Tong Society, which promotes Chinese culture, offers a place for seniors to meet and is a resource for new immigrants.
Norman loved hockey, especially the Leafs, Mah Jong, playing volleyball and tending his beautiful flower garden. He also owned two racehorses at Woodbine racetrack: Comical Guy and Sai Woo Lady. He gambled occasionally but loved the animals: There is a long history of respect for horses in Chinese culture. When his horses won, he would share the money with his children. At 75, Norman’s daughter Judy took him for his first and only horseback ride on a sunny Saturday afternoon. He enjoyed it immensely.
The restaurant closed in 2000 when Norman and his partners retired. Joyce and Norman encouraged their children to pursue their own interests and goals, and enjoy a better life than their parents. They taught their children to live life with integrity and intention. Open-mindedness and generosity were stressed along with kindness, and that family was the most important thing.
Sadly, the couple would bury their daughter Sharon in 2012, and Joyce died in 2016.
Norman’s selflessness, compassion, thoughtfulness and caring is missed by all who loved him. His generosity was legendary. When one of Sai Woo’s cooks had no way of getting to work, he make the hour-long drive to pick him up and drop him off in the middle of the night. When a fence was needed, he built it as a surprise and at no cost to one of his neighbours. These little gestures were commonplace, and said so much about him.
Anita Kunz is Norman’s daughter in law.
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