Growing up in Fernie in the sixties meant socializing with friends at the popular Diamond Grill on Victoria Avenue owned by Charlie and Annie Yip. It was like a scene out of TV’s “Happy Days” sitting on smooth vinyl covered seats of booths or on stools along the lunch counter of the restaurant.
You could turn the pages of the miniature jukeboxes on the wall of each booth to select a record title or put in the quarter on the big jukebox by the door to choose the latest hit parade song. We would hang with the Yip kids who most often were working in the family business.
At age 15 I got my first paid job when Mrs. Yip hired me as a waitress. Under her warm gaze I learned to make creamy milkshakes and box lunches for workers. Annie taught me to wrap wax paper around the sandwiches meticulously and to serve customers in a polite, friendly manner. Annie’s brother excelled in making pies and I often stared longingly at the mile high cream pies that sat on the counter. Lemon, Boston, banana, no one had pies like the Diamond Grill and no one worked harder than the Yip family. As an adult I came to know Annie when she became a member of Holy Family Parish. There wasn’t a tea or special event where her baking didn’t grace the tables. Her delicious assortment of squares and cookies were easily recognizable. For years Annie contributed to her church, community and friends. She visited shut-ins, brought home-baking to many, cleaned the church, cooked and cleaned for priests, took care of the altar linens, knitted slippers for altar servers, was a scripture reader, taught catechism to classes of 30-40 grade ones at a time, giving each one a special treat at Christmas.
Vince Sontag said that she was known as the “little lady with a big heart, her constant giving characterized her life, when we first moved here we lived in the Napannee apartments, she befriended us, brought home made goodies, gifts were all a work of loving hands, she was generous to those in need even in the restaurant, even at age 80 she was still the dutiful daughter as her mother was still living, when her health was failing she thanked us for visiting her, we will eternally remember the little lady with a big heart.”
Angelo and Betty Schianni have been friends for 50 years, she recalls how “Father Morelli turned her to our faith, she was a house keeper for him and other priests cooking and cleaning, she did so much for nothing, even worked as a janitor in the old school, no one knows how much she did, she was a CWL member working at all events, she put on big Chinese dinners in the hall and at home, she was loved by everyone.”
It was Annie who had the church pulpit turned into the beautiful altar and speaker stand in front of the main altar, a wonderful historical legacy. Betty and Angelo reminisce about the many times they travelled together with Annie to events like Father Morelli’s 90th birthday and Father George’s 40th celebration of priesthood and other events.
“She was the one that would cook when they came here, sometimes 10 at a time, she was the most helpful, compassionate, generous, gentle and kind person, one of the best, she was happy only when she was giving.”
Annie Wheta Yip was born in Natal on Janurary 11, 1922 and passed away on May 25, 2011 in Fernie. Her son Ken and daughter Eileen stood together to deliver the eulogy. Ken said that his mother was the daughter of Chow Park Lain and Wheta Chow who emigrated from the Hoyping district of China to Michel, BC in 1921. In 1925 Annie, her parents, her brother Joe and sister Dora moved to Cranbrook after a fire nearly destroyed Michel. While there, Edith, Chuck, Hank, Shirley and Moy were added to the family. Annie met and married Charles Yip in 1939. Charlie took a job as a cook in Cardston and soon Howard and Marie were added. In 1943 they moved to Blairmore and Eileen was born, a year later the family moved to Fernie when Charlie became co-owner of the New Moon Café in the Northern Hotel. In 1948 Ken was born and four years later Charlie opened the Diamond Grill. Annie began working there while raising her children and adding Darlene and David. Ken says the Yip family now consisted of three boys and three girls plus his brother Donald from his dad’s first marriage. He noted that along with being a tireless worker at the restaurant and at home his mom also made time to knit, crochet, bake and cook. He recalled how he held the wool so she could roll it into balls to make mittens and sweaters for the kids.
Eventually his dad’s health began to fail and Annie began to run the household and restaurant alone. Although Marie and Eileen had already left she still had the younger kids at home. They worked side by side with their mother and he recalled Sundays serving the Mass crowd from the Catholic Church. In the seventies they sold the restaurant and in 1975 Charlie passed away. Annie kept working in the kitchens of other restaurants and then cooking and cleaning for priests. This job changed her life forever he said, because she met Father Morelli and through his teachings joined the Catholic Church, becoming a very devout Catholic.
“Mom liked to entertain her friends by having them over to her home and sampling her great Chinese cooking, my favourite baking was her shortbread and cherry squares.” Annie faced many obstacles in her life including the loss of personal, irreplaceable mementos twice in fires, once in the Nappanee apartments and then the loss of the family home on Third Avenue. She was an amazing worker, a devoted mother and friend and exceptional, generous spirit. Annie’s legacy is in her six children, 18 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren. As Ken said, “We are truly blessed by having her as our mother and grandmother; she will always be in our hearts.” Most people Annie touched feel the same way for knowing her.