Exotic fine dining in Belleville, once upon a time

Sun Luck Gardens, Belleville

This available-for-lease building on Front Street North in Belleville, faded and worn though it may now be, reminds me of glamorous dining in the era of my childhood.

I was driving along Belleville‘s Front Street the other day – Front Street being a major commercial artery that connects downtown with Highway 62 heading up to Queensborough and other points north – when I spotted a faded blast from my past. It was the unusual-looking building that you see atop this post, and I just had to pull over and take a picture, because I recognized it instantly.

Well, sort of.

What I remembered what that this building was once home to a high-end (by Belleville standards) Chinese restaurant back long ago when I was a kid growing up in Queensborough. It was fancy (and expensive) enough that my family never went there (at least not with me along), but its singular architectural style made it stand out, and I always looked for it when we would drive in to Belleville. And I would imagine how much fun it would be to actually dine there – why, they probably had umbrellas in the drinks they served!

So it was interesting to come across it again all these years later, albeit looking faded and run-down and with a big “For Lease” sign on it.

But what I absolutely could not remember was what that long-ago beacon of exoticness was called. And I was all set to ask you, my readers – because I knew that at least some of you would know. But then the interesting Facebook page Vintage Belleville, Trenton & and Quinte Region saved the day (as it has in the past, providing me with some great photos for my posts on Queensborough’s one and only rock festival, the 1971 Rock Acres Peace Festival, here and here.)

Sun Luck Gardens matchbook

I am indebted to the Facebook page Vintage Belleville, Trenton & Quinte Region for this photo from the past – reminding me of the name of Sun Luck Gardens.

Thanks to VBT&QR’s photo of a matchbook from the place in its heyday (the actual post is here), it all came back. Sun Luck Gardens!

All I have to say is this: someone should lease that sucker and bring it all back. “The finest in Chinese and Canadians foods,” of course. And also: the drinks with the umbrellas.

66 thoughts on “Exotic fine dining in Belleville, once upon a time

  1. Yes, Sun Luck Gardens! I loved the place, and it’s sad to see the property in such rough shape. But, Sun Luck’s glory days, it was quite the place to visit. The food was very good, and the building was new and sparkling. We used to get dressed up (around 1972), and it was always a special treat to be there. What a shame that she didn’t survive the stress of changing times. I can’t remember if the Harvey’s is still operating, which was nearby. Do you remember the Ponderosa Steak House? It was very close to Sun Luck Gardens, too. And, speaking of memories in that area, do you remember Fountain Park? It was where the McDonald’s is. It used to have a fountain out front (bird-shaped, if I remember correctly.) And don’t get me started about Hotel Quinte. That is beyond sad. I was in the hotel only once, about a year before the fire (for Belleville’s “Doors Open”), and I was given a nice tour by someone from the front desk. If only we could flip a switch and still have these places as they were.

    • Oh my goodness, yes, the Ponderosa Steak House! An affordable steak dinner! That was certainly the only place that our family of six, living on a rural minister’s salary, could ever afford to go out for steak – and even then it was a very rare treat indeed. That’s another happy memory you’ve conjured up, Sash. And yes, Fountain Park: the name and the location ring a bell, but – what was it? An ice-cream bar? If so, going there is one of my very earliest memories. The Hotel Quinte, meanwhile – what a tragic loss for downtown Belleville and its heritage. Do you remember its revolving red, white and blue sign?

      • Fountain Park served burgers, shakes, fries, that sort of thing. The fountain was fairly large, and I remember when they built the place. I also remember when they put in the Sun Valley Motor Lodge (across from the Mall). When they started opening up the north end of Front St. N., it was exciting. Ask me what I think of it now, in its congested state (especially with the downtown core falling apart!) 🙂 Another place for dining that was always a real treat was the dining room in the Four Seasons Hotel (now the Travelodge). When that hotel first opened, it seemed so classy and modern, and the dining room was special. I even have a cookbook of the Quinte region with the Four Seasons’ dining room’s photo, which was used to accompany local recipes. I barely remember the sign at the Hotel Quinte. I am so glad that I went for the Doors Open tour a couple of years ago, and that I got to be inside the HQ. It had some lovely pieces in the lobby, and even though it had been altered in some ways, one could imagine how grand it would have been in its day.

      • Okay, so Fountain Park is the ice-cream place I remember from my earliest childhood! Sash, I keep having to thank you for bringing back these memories, but: thank you! You’ve done it again! As for the Four Seasons: correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the Belleville Four Seasons was the very beginning of what is now a huge international chain of luxury hotels. And (if true, which I think it is): isn’t that something?

    • The Northway Restaurant was pretty much right across the street from us (we lived at 198 N. Front) and the Sun Luck was about a three-minute walk north. Working for CN at the time, we were fortunate enough to be able to dine at the Sun Luck on paydays. Thanks for jarring an old guy’s memory!

      • Steve, I’m happy to have brought back some good memories! I don’t think I was ever lucky enough to dine at Sun Luck Gardens; I remember my family going to Hi Tops in Peterborough once or twice when I was a kid, and it was probably much the same kind of food, but Sun Luck Gardens just looked so much more elegant and fancy. Meanwhile, the good old Northway is still going strong! I haven’t visited (yet) myself, but my husband has had some good old-fashioned diner breakfasts and lunches there, and I look forward to checking out what I bet will be a first-rate toasted western there. Nice to see that some longstanding businesses are still around!

  2. Hi there,
    Wonderful to be reminded of these fine dining establishments from the past.
    I particularly recall teaching Elderhostel students at the Quinte Hotel when it was being renovated some twenty or more years ago.
    Senior students from across Canada and the USA spent a week there in the early summer. They took three classes. I met with them for an hour or two each day on matters relating to the history of the Belleville area. The organist from Bridge Street United Church instructed them in the workings of the church organ. And a nurse-practitioner from The County dealt with health matters.
    The students stayed in the Quinte Hotel rooms that had been already renovated, ate their meals in the dining room and had a great time for the week. I recall one woman from Florida who had worked as a clown down home. The week ended with a party and the vacationers headed home.
    Everyone enjoyed themselves.
    The only complaint was that some didn’t like having the roast beef buffet twice every day. They would have preferred something simpler.
    The cost to each participant was a little over $200 Canadian – including room, all meals, coffee breaks and snacks, all classes, and bus for some touring. Amazing!
    The previous year a similar course had been run by Loyalist College at a camp at Roblin Lake in Prince Edward County.
    I’m not sure if Elderhostel camps (such as those sponsored by Loyalist College) are still being held anywhere in the Quinte region.

    • Geez, Gerry, that Elderhostel experience sounds like it was absolutely wonderful! And what a bargain! I am sorry to say that I was never once in the Quinte Hotel, and now I never will be. Sure wish I’d had the chance to be one of your students back then.

  3. Oh, yes! Sun Luck Gardens! I was only there a couple of times, but I know my grandparents went there regularly. I remember their coffee creamers came in tiny glass bottles shaped like miniature milk bottles. My little cousin, who shall remain nameless, got one of the creamers stuck in his mouth once. Thankfully, someone was able to retrieve it.

    • What a great story, Karen! (Thanks to the happy ending, of course.) One wonders what might have ever happened to the cute little glass coffee creamers when the restaurant closed. Hope they didn’t get tossed out…

  4. This was where our family went for special dinners in the 70s. Many fond memories, ‘exotic’ food, a very friendly family that ran it and seemed to treat everyone like long-lost family. Always wondered why it has sent empty for decades…

  5. You’re welcome. I am attaching a link to the history of the Four Season Hotel business. The one in Belleville was not the start of the “empire”, though. Rather, the Four Seasons Motor Hotel on Jarvis Street in Toronto was the first hotel. I remember that one well, and I took a walk though its lobby just before they closed it. (It was demolished to make way for townhouses.) You might recall a CBC show (CBC had its headquarters just across the street, on Jarvis, where the National Ballet School is now) called “Luncheon Date” with Elwood Glover, host. They aired the episodes (“live”) from the lobby, near the pool at the Four Seasons. I remember watching the show from Madoc and, one time in particular, being thrilled when I tuned in to see his guest was none other than Lucille Ball.

    When the Four Seasons was built in Belleville, I can recall an advertisement for the hotels somewhere. It listed a few of them: Chicago, New York, maybe Paris (can’t recall, but there was another big city) and … Belleville. It seemed as though this was very important and that Belleville had some sort of international claim.

    The hotel was very impressive. I was a guest at a wedding where the reception was held at the hotel, and it was very gourmet-ish, certainly not what one might expect from smaller places. I also remember the interesting pool, an outdoor type that could be used year-round. Yes, in winter, one could use the outdoor pool. I remember being in it in the middle of a frigid January. One enters one end of the pool (that is situated indoors) and then you pass the divider that brings you to the outdoor part.

    I have a cookbook, “The Flavour of Quinte” by Renee Galioto (published 1982), and there are some interesting photos of the Belleville area .. the old farmer’s market, City Hall, and two of the Four Seasons Hotel (one of the dining room, and another of the pool — both with items of food arranged).

    In the link below, you’ll read more of the history of the Four Seasons. It’s interesting that the owner was a friend of Eddie Creed (owner of Creed’s store in Toronto.) Creed’s is long gone, and now the space is William Ashley China (a huge emporium of fine china and crystal). The Four Seasons Inn on the Park that is mentioned was demolished in 2006 (years after a devastating fire that took six lives.) But, the Belleville is still being used, although no longer a Four Seasons.

    http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/four-seasons-hotels-inc-history/

    • Okay, Sash, in one fell swoop (okay, comment) you have brought memories rushing back of Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date and Creed’s. I am suddenly transported to mid-1960s Toronto, and what a trip that is. Perhaps I’ll just wander over to Yorkville…

      • And speaking of Toronto (and food), had you ever been to the old Town & Country buffet, on Mutual Street (near the Sears warehouse)? Yorkville, yes, what a fun place. It has changed so much over the years, but there is one little place that is still a reminder of the hippie days. The Coffee Mill (on Yorkville Avenue) is still running, although in the day, it was in the old Lowther Mews, closer to Bloor Street. However, when they moved, they also took the outdoor fountain and rebuilt it at the new patio. It’s a great spot to have a bit of relaxation on a hot day, tucked in beside a lane that connects Cumberland and Yorkville Avenues.

      • You are reminding me of my 1970s late-teenage years at Victoria College at the University of Toronto, right in that general area, Sash. When there used to be movie theatres and everything!

      • So, you went to Victoria, and your father went to Emmanuel? They’re next door to each other. You must have been very happy with your time at Vic, and that part of the campus is particularly beautiful. Movie theatres? Yes, there were quite a few in the area, but now the areas are all re-developed. The big University Theatre is now a Pottery Barn store, although the facade has been preserved. The Uptown Theatre on Yonge, south of Bloor, is now a huge condo, about 50 floors tall. There was a smaller set of theatres on the street behind it (Balmuto) called The BackStage, and that complex was demolished around the same time as the Uptown, and it’s another condo tower. Yorkville is very upscale with its expensive boutiques, and no hint of the former hippie days.

      • I remember all of those theatres so fondly. The grand University was where I first saw Apocalypse Now (which horrified me) and The Right Stuff (which I adored, as I mentioned here). The Uptown Backstage was our destination when my high-school boyfriend and I undertook the adventure of taking the Havelock-Toronto train into the city (from our homes in Campbellford and Hastings, Ont.) and went to see Annie Hall, a movie I will always love. The good old days!

      • You might also remember the Towne cinema, on the south side of Bloor (east of Yonge, just beside the subway entrance.) It went down many years ago. The space was converted to use as a store (I seem to recall it had become a fabric shop), and then the demolition took place, to make room for (wait for it …) another condo tower (like Toronto needs more of those.)

        When you were at the Backstage, had you discovered the wonderful pastry shop that was down the street from the theatre? It was called “A Piece of Cake”, and it was owned by a European couple (two pastry chefs.) They had some of the most delicious pastries, and some of the tortes and cakes were works of art (such as Gateau St. Honore). I was so taken with GSH, and the owner said she would give me the recipe, but she promised it would not turn out properly the first time I attempted it. Well, I had no desire in making anything complicated like that, so I did not accept the recipe. I wish I had, though.

      • I certainly do remember the Towne Cinema, and I have a very vague memory of A Piece of Cake. (The only place I’ve ever had Gateau St. Honoré was in France during the Christmas season – and you can imagine how good it was!) Do you by any chance remember the Fare Exchange cafe in the same general area of Toronto? It was a favourite haunt of ours back in the day.

      • Yes, the Fare Exchange was on Irwin Street, just west of Yonge, and I’d been there many times. It is still a restaurant, but now it’s The Ethiopian House (link below). It’s a popular place, but I haven’t been there.

        http://www.ethiopianhouse.com

        The desserts at A Piece of Cake were wonderful. The Gateau St. Honore looked unlike anything I’ve seen since, as it was fairly high. The owner’s name was Margaret, and they closed it after her husband became ill, as she had to tend to his care and could not manage the restaurant on her own. Maybe you’ll recall a small school in that block that collapsed. It was upstairs beside the Backstage Theatre. That collapse necessitated the demolition of the Backstage and the adjoining buildings, due to safety concerns. So, a couple of other neighbouring restaurants had to go, too.

        Were you in university when Bemelman’s was operating?

        We’ve had a good run down Memory Lane, thanks to Sun Luck Gardens!

      • We have indeed, Sash! Yes, Bemelman’s was around when I was at U of T, though I don’t think I was ever there. (Too fancy for the likes of me.) The owners of the Fare Exchange, David and Jeannie, ended up buying and running restaurants in Peterborough and then Port Hope, Ont., after selling the FE, and since Peterborough and Port Hope were my haunts, I came to know them as friends (as well as the people who had fed me when I was a starving student). Given all our mutual hangouts, Sash, I think you and I must have crossed paths (albeit unknowingly) at least once in the past!

      • Yes, Bemelman’s was a “see and be seen” place. I’d been there a couple of times, but it was too uppity for me. Along that strip, there was a Toby’s Good Eats (hamburger joint) and even that had attitude (unlike other Toby’s that were nearby.) I’ll never forget the night I was there with a friend and we thought Margaret Trudeau was seated two tables over. Well, she wasn’t, but the woman must have been her twin.

        That’s interesting about the Fare Exchange and the owners. Their restaurant was popular, and the patio was relaxing in the summer. I spent New Years Eve at the restaurant one year, 1988 or so.

        Who knows? Maybe our paths have crossed unknowingly!

    • Scott, I think it’s high time someone with culinary skill and an interest in midcentury style and food bought the building and brought Sun Luck Gardens back to its former glory. Couldn’t we all use a good Mai Tai?

  6. Hi there,

    I’ve found a photo from 1966 of the old Fountain Park in Belleville, which was where McDonald’s is, at the top of the hill on North Front Street (just up from the Sun Luck Gardens). Notice the bird-shaped fountain tucked in between the phone booth and the sign. I can’t recall exactly, but I think water sprayed from the circular parts that went around the wings of the statue. It was a fun place of the day, well before North Front started opening up to so many other businesses; actually, I wish they had never taken it down.

    http://vitacollections.ca/BellevilleHistory/2477680/image/1383216?n=1177

    • Oh wow – this is fantastic, Sash! I had not been able to come up with a picture in my mind of that rather magical (source of soft-ice-cream cones) place of my very early childhood, but that did it! Well done! And yes, I agree with you about what’s happened to North Front Street in Belleville but – time marches on…

  7. iremember every thing in belleville in the late 70/80 nighilife the night club scene dolans and jessicas wow long time ago i was verry popular at both clubs those were the days

    • Hi Marco! Those particular years (late 1970s and ’80s) are the ones when I was not in the Belleville area, so I’m afraid we can’t share reminiscences about the city’s nightclub scene then. But I bet you’ve got some good stories!

    • Hi. Does anyone remember the name of the dance bar in the Four Seasons hotel in the 70’s? Had many a good night there.

      • Steve, Jessica’s sounds right to me, though I’m no expert – as I just explained in my reply to Susan, I was a little too young in those days to be going to dance bars (or, for that matter, any kind of bars) in big cities like Belleville. Let’s see if it rings a bell with Susan. And: let’s have some stories about it!

      • Someone mentioned it was called something else before it was Jessicas in the early 70’s. Must be my “craft” disease as I can’t for the life of me recall it.

      • Susan, I felt like I should have remembered it (even though in the years I was growing up in this area I would have been a little too young to go there, plus Belleville in those days seemed kind of far from Queensborough), but I couldn’t. Fortunately, I believe fellow commenter Steve has the answer coming up next!

      • Before it was Jessica’s (I think) , a bunch of us saw The Stampeders there in 1977. I thought it was a coup at the time getting a name act used to playing arenas to play a comparatively intimate club. My wife (at the time) was from Belleville and the colloquial term for the place was ‘Inn on the Dump”. (I can only assume the land was a former landfill site…)

      • Okay, that nickname for what was once a fairly fancy hotel is pretty funny, Steve. I think you may well be right that the land might have been a former landfill. Meanwhile, the Stampeders! Wow! Did you know that if you’d been fortunate enough to visit the one and only Queensborough Rock Festival in the summer of 1971, you could have seen them in the open air?

  8. Our wedding reception was held at the Sun Valley in June 1977. I was able to come up with a photo as I remember it:

    • Wow – thank you for this photo, Steve! I had forgotten about the Sun Valley – was it on Front Street North? I am inclined to think so, given this article that I found by Ryan Williams of the Williams family that owns many hotels in the Belleville-Trenton area. In it he says the Williamses now own the Sun Valley property and it’s the Fairfield Inn and Suites. In my mind’s eye I think I can picture the Sun Valley as one drove south into Belleville from the Madoc area, where my family lived. A sure sign that you were in the big city!

    • Does anyone remember the name of the dance bar at the Sunvalley before it was called Cheers think in the 1970s. Was there dancing every week two or three times

  9. Not sure if I’d call it fine dining… but Dixie Lee Fried Chicken on Coleman St. (I think The Red Lion is there now) was the go-to spot for us attending Loyalist College. All-you-could-eat wings on Friday afternoons! REAL nice for those of us on a budget.

  10. Sun Luck is burned on the inside by fire, the place is condemned and needs to be demolished, the man who owns the property lived above it long after the restaurant part was shut down, moved out a year or two ago. My mother used to work there. Crazy stories I’ve heard. Hotel Quinte burned to the ground….. sad, I documented it all in photographs. Ponderosa, my mother worked there in it’s hey day also, afterwards it was an Applebee’s for a short time and now a Japanese restaurant called Dragon Rolls. Harvey’s is still beside it, always will be. I wish they’d bring a Red Lobster to the area ha ha.

    • The OPP building on North Front was demolished a little more than a year ago. There was a Dixie Lee on Sidney St, it’s been gone for more than 10 years but the drive thru sign is still up, I haven’t the foggiest idea why, actually had someone ask me the other day if they could order chicken over there. Oh dear….

    • Thanks for all that information about Belleville restaurants from back in the day, scrappysignatures! You brought back good memories when you mentioned Ponderosa. It was the only restaurant that a poor country minister’s family could even think of eating a steak dinner. What a treat it was to go there! I remember the plastic cows in varying colours – from blue (I guess, for very rare) to black – indicating the doneness. Man, I can taste the baked potato now!

    • Ah, Sun Luck Gardens… I remember eating there as a child and enjoying my drinks with little umbrellas. My family personally knew the owners of the restaurant. Back in its heyday, Michael & Suzy Tom were the sparkling hosts of Belleville’s “exotic Chinese cuisine”. And their daughter was a whiz kid in piano, smashing all of the competition in the Rotary Music Festival. Unfortunately, their business failed over the years as customers’ palates became more sophisticated and it didn’t help when Michael opened a second restaurant, “Sun Luck Harbour” for his mistress. The owners did live in the apartment above the restaurant, even after the fire. It’s so sad how life turned out for them…

      • That is sad, Click. And interesting to think that palates changed that much, given that there’s still a lot of “Chinese-Canadian” food around. Not nearly as much as back in the 1960s, granted. I drove by the remains of Sun Luck Gardens just yesterday, and it is indeed sad to see it in its present state. I maintain that, given that all things Tiki are trendy again, a nicely revived (in vintage style) Sun Luck with a funky drinks list (including those umbrellas, of course – and there would have to be excellent Mai Tais) and a good menu could actually do very well. I live in hope…

  11. Well Holy Crap Dar! (Heads-up Susan)
    NICE catch! It WAS the Mad Mechanic!
    The manager in 1975 was Dennis Reed-Lewis.

    IIRC, the Four Seasons gave him a goodly chunk of the underground parking garage to open the club and he used a bunch of car parts to decorate the place. It was there that I saw The Stampeders in 1978(?)

    Thank you for that!

    • I love it when stuff like this happens. More often than you might think – someone stumbles on a long-ago post, and is able to add valuable new information. Still waiting for the woman whose 1960s pop-music scrapbook I wrote about here, to maybe find that post and comment!

  12. I remember the Four Seasons, Mad Mechanics! I worked there part time in the 70’s.
    Yes, it was decorated with a bunch of car parts, nicely done. It had a dance floor and live bands.

    • The more I think about it, Kathy, the more I dimly recall hearing about Mad Mechanics as a cool place for cool young people to go. Sadly, I was a little to young – and definitely not one of the cool kids!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s