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Dynamic B.C. restaurateur overcame discrimination in famous case

October 19, 2021

By Globe and Mail |

In 1956, Susie Chew signed up to rent an apartment in a new building. She ordered furniture only to have the building’s manager reject the delivery.

She was told the new owners would not rent to her because of her race.

Miss Chew, a Canadian-born restaurateur of Chinese ancestry, kept the disheartening news of the discrimination to herself for several days.

At the time, she owned the Waffle House, a diner popular with reporters for radio station CKNW and The British Columbian newspaper in New Westminster, outside Vancouver. They urged her to go public. After she did so, the ensuing outcry, including front-page stories in the Vancouver dailies, forced the owners to remove their colour bar, allowing her to move in.

The controversy led to a feature profile in Weekend Magazine and a subsequent appearance on television’s Front Page Challenge.

Miss Chew, who has died at 94, appeared often in newspapers over the years, usually for happier reasons. She was described as “svelte,” “pretty,” “glamorous,” “indefatigable,” “very photogenic,” “a bundle of energy,” “a successful businesswoman,” and “one of our finest citizens.”

From humble beginnings as the daughter of immigrant market gardeners, she worked or volunteered as a store clerk, speechmaker, Cubmaster, art model, fashion model, travel agent, society columnist, paper-flower maker, boutique owner, cabaret hostess, photographer’s scout, radio show host, and beauty pageant contestant. She enjoyed a long career as a real estate agent in Toronto.

She also appeared on stage as a hula dancer and on screen as an extra in the holiday movie A Christmas Story.

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