History of famous Vancouver Chinatown restaurant revealed through collected menus
The WK Gardens Chinese restaurant once hosted dinners for notable politicians and celebrities
The WK Gardens was once a popular Chinese restaurant in Vancouver's Chinatown that hosted special dinners for notable figures like former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and was visited by stars like actor Gary Cooper and Frank Sinatra.
The daughter of the family who ran the restaurant has some of the personalized menus that the WK Gardens created when hosting various dignitaries, as well as vintage and modern menus from other Chinese restaurants.
Imogene Lim has shared that collection with the Museum of Vancouver, and it's currently featured in the their latest exhibit All Together Now: Vancouver Collectors and Their Worlds.
'If you were somebody you went to the WK'
"WK Gardens was one of the most happening Chinese restaurants in all of Vancouver," Lim said. "If you were somebody you went to the WK."
The collection has the menu from the dinner WK Gardens served to Lester B. Pearson in 1965 when he was prime minister (offerings included "Ragout of Long Island Duckling" and "B.C. Oysters with Mushrooms"), as well as a menu from a dinner hosted by John David Eaton (whose family ran the Eaton's department stores).
She said the restaurant could hold 700 people, "so if you were thinking of a big event, you'd go to the WK."
Lim said she received most of the WK Gardens menus from her father, and menus from other restaurants from her uncle, who liked to keep a close watch on the competition.
"Thanks to both of them I have an amazing collection of menus. It's my inheritance as such," she told All Points West host Robyn Burns.
Litchi and duckmeat salad
Lim, who is a professor of anthropology at Vancouver Island University, said the menus in the collection tell a story of how immigration to Vancouver and Canada in general has changed over the years, as well as the changes in availability of foods.
"Yes I'm an academic so I have an interest in Chinese-Canadian history, I also have an interest in food, and it's all there in the menus," she said.
She said when she was growing up she remembers that there were only a few vegetables used in Chinese dishes that were generally available — such as bok choy and bean sprouts — but "if you go into any Asian market today there's a dozen plus different types of greens."
One of the items from the various WK Gardens menus that stands out to her is "tropical salad", which she said consisted of litchi, duck meat, pickled vegetables and iceberg lettuce.
"So then you had this crunch, you had this slightly sweet-and-sour [taste] and then you got the meat in it," she said, laughing.
With files from CBC's All Points West
To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: History of famous Vancouver Chinatown restaurant WK Gardens revealed through collected menus