Peter Lee, a fixture in Fort Langley who along with his family ran the town’s main grocery store for decades, has died at age 78.
Lee’s extended family is from Sun Chuen, Gunagdong, China, where Peter was born in 1942. In 1955 Peter and most of his family immigrated to Fiji, where his father was running a general store in a village called Ba Town.
But in 1971, Peter visited a cousin who had settled in New Westminster. By 1972, the family, including Peter’s mother, matriarch Shiu Chan Lam, had made up their minds to immigrate to Canada.
“Grandma and them, they wanted a better life for all of us,” said Charlie Lee, Peter’s nephew.
Four families, including Peter, his wife Suk Ching, his brothers Johnny and Robert and sister Chang Kwan, along with his brother in law, all made their way to Canada by 1975. With experience already running a store in Fiji, the family was keeping an eye out for a new opportunity, and Robert said it was Peter who spotted the ad in a Surrey newspaper about the Fort Langley grocery store being up for sale.
There were actually two stores for sale – one in the Fort, one in Abbotsford. Seeing Fort Langley, they opted for it as it reminded the family of Ba Town, with a similar small-town feel.
“What a great decision,” said Robert, Peter’s youngest brother.
In Ba Town, the Lees had gotten to know people’s names and families as they shopped at their store there.
“When we got to Fort Langley, we found that same community,” he said.
“It’s been very good to the family.”
Peter threw himself into working at the store, doing almost every job imaginable at one point or another. He kept the books, worked in the bakery and the meat department, and did the floral department.
“No one could out do him, work wise,” said Charlie.
The store was an IGA for most of its existence in the Fort, but that came to an end on Jan. 6, 2011 when a fire levelled the building. Evidence suggested someone had been attempting to break into the building and had started the fire, possibly while trying to saw through metal bars on a window.
The fire had a big impact on the family, but it devastated Peter the most, said Charlie. Peter’s life was work and his family.
After the family decided to rebuild and create Lee’s Market, Peter was thrilled. Although he tended to stay more in the background when it came to the family business, he was part of the groundbreaking ceremony in November, 2011, grinning widely with a shovel in his hand.
Lee’s Market would open in 2012, and Peter worked there until earlier this year.
He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in January 2020.
“His spirits were always high,” said Robert. “He never gave up, right to the end.”
“He slowed down, but he still worked,” said Charlie.
Peter died in Langley Memorial Hospital on Sept. 10. A funeral was held on Sept. 27.
Peter’s son Eddie said since his father’s death, the community has reacted with cards, flowers, and gifts. “We were touched by their kind words and thoughtful gestures,” Eddie said.
“He led a selfless, simple, low key, hard working life,” Eddie said. “Now he can rest.”
It was a difficult year for the Lee family. Matriarch Shiu Chan Lam also died this year, aged 101. Her older sister, 108, passed away as well.
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