Special pot stove returned to Sturgis Museum

The Sturgis Station House Museum had received a special donation of a potbelly stove from Ken Toy in 2018. The stove had belonged to his father Jack Toy who had operated The Northern Café in Sturgis from 1949 to the early 1970s.

The stove had previously sat in a corner of the museum prior to being refurbished by Manny and Effie Silveira of The Prairie Cricket Antique Shoppe of Saltcoats. The stove, after being refurbished, was delivered back to the museum on June 18.

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The following recounts the historical story of the stove and the store submitted by Ken Toy, son of Jack Toy.

The Northern Café in Sturgis was rebuilt after a fire, about the year 1936, and subsequently rented out to Chinese proprietors, according to the Sturgis History book, Harvest of Memories. It is possible that this was when the potbelly stove was first brought in.

Jack Toy (Toy Yuen Jack) had immigrated to Canada in 1919, at the age of 14. He returned to China several times, to visit his family and to dutifully marry, but his wife Louie TooHoy was unable to join him for many years because of the Canadian government’s Chinese Exclusion Act. Jack, along with bachelors Jim Toy and Gue Toy took over the Northern Café restaurant in 1949. 

The upper story of the building provided living quarters for the men, and other rooms were rented out to boarders. In February of 1954, Toy Louie TooHoy (locally known as Mrs. Jack Toy, or simply Mrs. Toy) and their son, Kenny, finally arrived in Sturgis from China, completing Jack’s family structure. 

Kenny, not speaking a word of English at age 7, was immediately enrolled into the school system in the fall and began his education.

In about the year 1957, due to disagreements between the three partners, Jack Toy decided to sell his share back to Jim and Gue and followed his dream of a solo interest in a business in Kelwood, Manitoba and the family moved to that community, setting up another restaurant there.

The year 1962/63 saw Jack and his family move back to Sturgis and take over the Northern Café solely, when Jim and Gue decided to retire “back to the old country.”  By this time, Kenny was old enough to do the chores and for the next few years, he was charged with hauling water from the town well, splitting wood for the kitchen stove, and bringing in the coal for the potbelly stove to heat the café during the long cold winter months.

It was approximately 1966 that Jack finally hooked up to the town water system and the luxury of indoor toilets. Until then, customers had to make a trip to the outhouse at the back. 

Kenny was then relieved of hauling water with a wagon in the summer and with a sled in the winter using 5 and 10-gallon milk cans. Jack sold groceries, fresh meat, tobacco, had an impressive array of penny candy, and was known for his ability to cook a tender steak and bake amazing pies.

Menu offerings were strictly Canadian-style food. Chinese food was reserved for the family’s private dinners and shared with visiting Chinese families, most of them on special occasions when other rural restaurant owners were able to get together.

Many a local resident came to the Northern Café on a cold and frigid day to visit with Jack and fellow locals. On cold days they could be seen trying to solve the world’s problems while huddled around this stove with one foot on the warming ring and hands competing for the limited space on the warming umbrella. The weigh scale donated by Ken was used by his father in the course of business.

In 1968, Kenny decided to leave high school and pursue a life in the big city. He departed with a school mate in the summer of that year and hitch-hiked to Winnipeg where he eventually completed his high school and continued on to university receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba. Ken went on to join the RCMP later in life and retired at the age of 67.

In 1971, Jack suffered a stroke upstairs above the restaurant. The Co-op delivery agent happened to arrive and he managed to carry Jack downstairs, get him into his delivery truck, and get him to Preeceville Union Hospital. 

Jack passed away approximately one week later. His family has never forgotten the strength and compassion of the Co-op delivery man. Ken returned to Sturgis immediately.

His father was buried in the Sturgis Cemetery. The business was dissolved and an auction held. Ken took his mother back with him to Winnipeg where she spent the next 17 happy years with Ken and his wife, Leslie.

They returned annually, with their growing family, for a traditional observance of respect at Jack’s gravesite. When TooHoy passed away in 1988, she was buried at Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg, and it was at that time that Jack’s remains were moved, to rest beside his wife’s at Brookside. Ken and Leslie have returned to Sturgis many times. The couple has three children.

Unfortunately, several valuable artifacts that Ken had kept aside for the family, including a large ornate cash register, had mysteriously ‘disappeared’ when he had returned to bring them back to Winnipeg. Jack’s descendants still use several of the old restaurant utensils, which have a solidness of utility about them, and the patina of many stories, concluded the submitted information.