A longtime business owner, real estate developer and early Chinese immigrant in downtown Yellowknife has passed away.
Newton Wong, who in more recent years has been living in Edmonton, died on Dec. 23 at the age of 89.
Several people commented with warm memories of Wong on a Dec. 28 Yk Memories Facebook page post, often with common recollections of Wong being very gracious with customers and always shaking hands with people he met.
According to his obituary, Wong was born in 1931 in Gao Yi Hong Village, Toishan County, Guangdong Province, China. He married his lifelong wife Wei Ting in 1947 before moving to Edmonton in 1950.
He eventually relocated to Yellowknife in 1957 with friends Jim Pon, Randy Pon and Calvin Mark.
“Together they established a number of prominent businesses in the city. Newton was a respected member of the community,” states his obituary.
“In 1960, Wei Ting, Ron, Gordon and Shirley (who had all remained in Edmonton) joined Newton in Yellowknife. Newton considered his time in the North as the best days of his life.”
At the time of his arrival in the NWT, he started running the Gold Range Cafe before building the Super A Foods store in 1962. It was initially located where the TD Bank before it expanded in 1967 with the construction of the Cunningham building (now known as the NWT Commerce Place).
He also took advantage of the city’s growing real estate boom in the downtown core, which included further expansion of the Super A and construction of the Panda 1 and Panda 2 malls and the Yellowknife Courthouse in the seventies and eighties.
“As things boomed into the ’80s, he kept up with real estate and extended his empire location downtown,” said Ryan Silke, a Yellowknife historian. “He wasn’t the largest landowner but he was always looking for opportunity.”
Longtime businessman Roy Williams, owner of Roy’s Audio and Visual Unlimited, said Wong owned the Super A grocery store for many years at the location where the Glen’s Independent Grocery store now stands. Wong gave Williams his first lease when he opened a Radio Shack in December 1975 in what’s now the lower level of the mall.
“All I can say is what a guy,” Williams recalled fondly this week. “I’ve had a store here for 45 years. When I wanted to open a Radio Shack store and I wanted to get to it, I was in need of a space. I approached Newton, who was standing at his usual spot in his Super A store after his cashiers, where he would be smiling and talking to customers as they walked through. I walked up and told him I would like to rent the space downstairs in the mall, which was open now. He smiled and shook my hand to say yes.”
That arrangement lasted many years.
“He was my landlord and he was a very warm and gracious landlord and person with a heart of gold,” Williams said. “I think that is a rare thing for a landlord because generally all they want is five years lease and see you in five years.”
Wong spent his latter years in Edmonton after retiring in 1993, following 36 years in Yellowknife with his wife. According to his obituary, he was able travel the world and led the Wongs’ Benevolent Association of Edmonton.