Oct 232017
 
Woo Sam's Buffalo Alberta

There’s not much in Buffalo Alberta – never was. Today, there’s a few houses, one or two appearing empty. There’s a thoroughly modern community hall, but mostly the town is made up of vacant lots. And there’s the abandoned rail line just over there. As for businesses there’s one, the post office. There, on the main drag, the only street in town in fact, it stands in service to the local populous who live on farms and ranches in the area. It’s open a couple days per week.

The old building in which its housed is being renovated. And here’s where it gets interestingly. Peeling back the layers, old siding and such, exposes signage from long ago, crisp and bright as though painted just yesterday. We’re standing in front of Woo Sam’s, general merchandise, restaurant and rooming house. Pics, get pics, for it’s all due to disappear again when a new covering is applied. It may have happened already. Anyone?

Woo Sam’s: renovations expose something incredible from the past. Researched, Written and Photographed by Chris Doering and Connie Biggart.(BIGDoer/Synd)

Here’s what we know of Woo Sam taken from an early 1970s history book. Originally from China, he wandered the west for many years, bouncing from here to there, sometimes returning to his home country for a time, prior to putting down roots in Buffalo around 1923. Here he opened his business first in a smaller building then later, circa 1928, the one we’re looking at today. The 1920s were a boom period on the plains and business was good.

Scroll down for photos and to comment.

The 1930s, that God-Awful Depression, would later test the resolve of any business person, including Woo Sam. Credit was given freely knowing very well many accounts would never being collected upon. A bit of neighbour helping neighbour. Many merchants extended themselves this way.

Fast forward and with the war on, the economy stabilized. This was a good time for Woo Sam’s store. An ad in the local school yearbook, circa 1940 reads: “Woo Sam, the biggest little store. Prompt service for everyone. Groceries, hardware, dry goods, gas & oil and rooms for rent. Here’s where your dollar goes farther.” No mention is made of the restaurant end of things, interestingly.

Woo Sam was later joined by some of his children and grandchildren, brought over from China and in the 1950s, so some three or so decades after they last saw each other, his wife. Long time no see! As a family they ran Woo Sam’s into the 1960s, when due to declining health, a son took over all responsibilities. The mother had passed earlier in that same decade. Late 1960s or thereabout the business was sold off. We have no data on when it closed completely and later became a post office only. Probably the 1970s for the former, would be a fair bet.

An old gas pump still stands out front, fuel being sold in gallons – Canada adopted the metric system in the late 1970s although the old “Imperial” form of measurement is still used stubbornly for many applications in rural Alberta to this very day. Especially by old timers. Aged farmers often give us directions, distances being mentioned in miles as though it was in every day use by everyone. Anyway, this helps corroborate that circa-1970s closing of the store of which we had a hunch.

Was Woo Sam’s also a restaurant and rooming house to the end? It’s not said. Did they keep the name? No idea. At some point some siding was put in place covering up the old sign, and protecting it and it survives in wonderful condition as a result!

Interestingly, there used to be a second grocery store in Buffalo just a couple lots down from Woo Sam’s. Old pictures show it also operated a gas station. Lots of competition in that small town! In the 1940s, the Buffalo High School used to be right next door. A marker reminds us of that.

Woo Sam is spoken of fondly in that old history book. Seems he was friend to all, a kind and benevolent person, a helping hand always extended and who said no to no one. Much beloved, a poem, written by Violet Stone, pays homage and describes his life, legacy and the impact he had on the people of Buffalo and area. Here’s his entire story, in verse, far better and with more true emotion than we could ever describe. Made our job real easy…here it is…

From the opposite side of the world came he,
  to make his home here with you and me.
He was young and ambitious and full of grit,
  had a cleaver philosophy spiced with wit.
His advice is worth taking we are told,
  the modern Confucius from a world of old.

He left his family, friends and came,
  in ’23 to find wealth and fame.
He started up with the tiny shack,
  which has become a storehouse out back
He later built his present store,
  with cafe and rooms on the second floor

He was followed later by son Wah Chou,
  who attended our school for a year or so.
Then came Scotty and Bill Wemp too,
  the McCulloughs moved in then Bill and Boo.
Each a few years with Sam did spend,
  bringing lonely days to a welcome end.

Son Kai arrived to take his turn,
  to keep Sam company as well as to learn.
He passed all his grades with marks so high,
  and then it was time to say goodbye.
He attended Varsities far and near,
  to become a first class engineer.

If Kai’s life was dull it woke with a bang,
  with the arrival of nephews, Wing and Sang.
These happy faced fellows were full of life,
  and they filled Woo Sam’s days with both joy and strife.
To share in all this, and as well to keep house,
  Woo Sam was joined by his aging spouse.

And so Sam enjoyed for too short a while,
  family life in the true Canadian style.
The boys fit in Buffalo like a hand-in-a-glove,
  and hunting and school sports became their first love.
As in our community all took their parts,
  we found they held likewise a place in our hearts.

Like Sam before them, who was father to all,
  with free catering service after hockey or ball.
His doors never closed either Sunday or night,
  Buffalo without him would never seem right.
We would miss all the extras and
  as to him and Mrs Chin we would say our goodbyes.

But all good things must come to an end,
  each of the Woos his own way did wend.
With the passing of wife and mother so dear,
  and each boy well launched with a brand new career.
Woo Sam may decide to join with his clan,
  become a real city slicker on the easy-pay plan.

Now Woo Sam has given his finest and best,
  in depression and wartime in our woolly west.
We could laugh at the rations and poverty too,
  for we knew that our merchant would see us right through.
I can see by your faces you’ve all stories to tell,
  so let’s wish Sam our blessings and best wishes as well.”

It’s not stated when the poem was written but appears in that history book referenced. The text suggests Woo Sam was alive when it was written. The mention of him being a “city slicker” seems to hint he moved to the big city in his later years or maybe planned to. Certain verses open up a window into to his soul. He was a giver of solid advice, and further, perhaps a bit of a funny guy. All the while his love for the town he called home, and those who lived there, is clear and without question.

The McCulloughs and other names mentioned in the third verse also lived with Sam Woo. Or rather he with them. Mrs Chin could I guess be described as a family friend from China that came over with Woo Sam’s wife. The name of Woo Sam’s wife doesn’t seem to make mention anywhere, neither this poem or the rest of the history book.

It not clear when Woo Sam passed. Cemetery records in Western Canada turn up nothing solid. Perhaps he was sent back to the old country which was not uncommon.

As suggested in the prose above, and in other tidbits found by your hard working author, it’s seems Woo was his family name and Sam his given, or rather an adopted anglicized one (we suspect), although we’ve found no data confirming either. Why then is it backwards on the sign? No idea? Or maybe we’re completely off with this hunch.

Buffalo Alberta was founded when the rail line came through in the 1910s. Never was a big place and currently is that close to obtaining full-on ghost town status. Still, the post office is open. And maybe it will be for a while?

Stuff you’ll love…
Shandro Village.
CPR Demonstration Farm.
CFS Alsask Dome.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: September, 2017.
Location: Buffalo, AB.
Article references: Book: Seventy Five Years Along The Red Deer River.
You can view the Woo Sam building from public roads.

Woo Sam's Buffalo Alberta

Buffalo Alberta, renovations expose old signage.

Woo Sam Buffalo AB

In times past it was Woo Sam’s.

Woo Sam Restaurant Buffalo AB

Now it’s the post office, the only business in town.

We recommend...

Join the discussion...

60 Comments on "Woo Sam’s"

Subscribe only
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest
Jason Sailer
Guest
Jason Sailer

Awesome! May need to take a drive out there. 😉

Jenn
Guest

I saw a photo of this recently and immediately fell in love. I would NEVER cover it up again lol. I am so glad you guys got to see it.

Margaret Hummel
Guest
Margaret Hummel

Thank you so much for sharing..an incredible story.

Dan Overes
Guest
Dan Overes

Really glad someone got out there to capture it before it gets covered up again.

Cody Glydon
Guest
Cody Glydon

Fascinating read. Well done!

Zeetta Gray
Guest
Zeetta Gray

So cool thank you!

George Stringam
Guest
George Stringam

I was about 10 years old (about 1963) when I traveled through Buffalo with my dad. He was a veterinarian and sometimes did some contract work for the dept. of agriculture. Dad was up there vaccinating cows for Bangs (brucillosis) and we stopped in Buffalo for a soda pop break. It’s hard to remember a place when you’ve only been there once, and that was 54 years ago. I guess if you say it fast enough it doesn’t seem that long ago…

Bernard Nemeth
Guest
Bernard Nemeth

Before there was a Tim shop in every town.

Myna Wendt
Guest
Myna Wendt

Stone Family (ed: a FB shout-our) – did u see your Mom’s “Violet Stone’s” poem is quoted in this write up?

Dale Stewart
Guest
Dale Stewart

Great article. Read it a couple of times.

Harvey Allen Sprowl
Guest
Harvey Allen Sprowl

Nice Shots Chris!

David Forbes
Guest
David Forbes

How soon will it get covered up?

Kathy Fyfe
Guest
Kathy Fyfe

Chris and Connie always have such interesting articles…

Al Rogers
Guest
Al Rogers

I certainly remember Woo Sam’s. My Dad and I used to stay there and eat there when we went picking berries or hunting in the fall. Always looked forward to visiting with Sam. Buffalo is south of Cereal about 40 miles which was just a nice run for our old Model “T”.

Joyce Bergdahl
Guest
Joyce Bergdahl

A wonderful story of a neighbouring town. I grew up in the small farming community of Iddesleigh, a ‘few miles west’ of Buffalo. Woo Chee Hong owned a similar general merchant store in Jenner. Awesome write-up and photos.

Jo-Ann
Guest
Jo-Ann

Very cool. Thank you for sharing. As for his name being written backwards, we have international students from China. William signs his name like Sam (last name/first name). He said it is the correct way to put it. Just Thought I would share.
Jo-Ann.

Teresa Duffin Sahli
Guest
Teresa Duffin Sahli

Interesting read! I love the history!

Ashley Mortensen
Guest
Ashley Mortensen

I love driving by here.

Michael Williams
Guest
Michael Williams

Cool stuff.

Janelle Gallais Awe
Guest
Janelle Gallais Awe

This is where my Mom grew up. I remember going here with my Grandma. It was a big event for the day, getting the mail.

Margaret Gallais
Guest
Margaret Gallais

I was there also years ago and that was just before Art and Marion’s wedding.It is sad to see so many little towns shrinking to next to nothing.The town of Pathlow where I was brought up is the same way .I have lots of good memories of that place.

Bernie Steenbergen
Guest
Bernie Steenbergen

Used to shop there when we first moved to the farm. Then it closed, 1976 or thereabouts.

Crystal Pilker
Guest
Crystal Pilker

I remember it well. We lived west of Buffalo for a while in the 60s.

Brian
Guest
Brian

What a very cool story, sad in some ways that times are a changing and these old communities are disappearing. It really would be wonderful to find the surviving family members to see what there thoughts were on this time in there lives.

Roy Bennett
Guest
Roy Bennett

Very nice!

Eric & Mary
Guest
Eric & Mary

Was a magical place when visiting Gramma and Grampa.

Allan Brooker
Guest
Allan Brooker

Great shots, well done. Like so many things “out there” – you have to make the effort to get there and be there to capture these things. This is special. I was at Buffalo school the last day it was open. It was to be removed and placed elsewhere. But to see what was under the “new” false front to find Woo Sam!! This is wonderful. I got the school and the beautiful grain elevators. I would love to see and shoot this. Good work guys. AB.

wpDiscuz