In Canada, you have to work really hard and help your community as much as you can, says Estela Aguilar Chow.
Chow, 51, is the owner of Lady Luck Restaurant and Buffet. She's from the Philippines and has been living in Timmins since January 1993.
She also runs a cleaning and home care business.
The Filipino community in the area has grown from 10 to more than 100 people over the years, Chow says.
Chow has participated in every Timmins Multicultural Festival and never missed the event.
“We always do that one,” she says. “It’s nice to showcase what you have. It’s fun.”
She has volunteered with St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral Church, Project Love and Good Samaritan Inn. She does Sunday school at the church and volunteers her time to give a host, or a communion bread, to people at Golden Manor and Extendicare.
Chow also tries to help newcomers if they’re sick, looking for housing or money.
“Even though they’re not Filipino, I always help out,” she says.
Having grown up in a middle-class family, Chow did not worked until she graduated university, where she majored in physical education and had a minor in home economics.
Chow moved to Timmins in 1993 after she met her husband, who worked as a chef at London Café. They dated for two years before marrying in Singapore, where Chow was working as a nanny and a private tutor.
What she liked about her husband is that he wasn’t controlling or telling her what to do.
“I didn’t want a life where you’re tied up, your movement is controlled by a husband or whoever,” Chow says. “I want to do something of my free will.”
Within her first week in Timmins, Chow applied for a job at Woolco. She worked as a salesperson for three weeks before being promoted to cashier. She then worked at a Bambi’s Castle daycare.
She wanted to pursue her education in Canada and needed to take three courses to qualify as a teacher but she got pregnant and everything was put on hold. Chow then took a teacher’s assistant course from Northern College and a personal support worker (PSW) program.
“Teaching is a good profession. It’s nice to teach the kids,” she says.
The year 1995 brought its ups and downs.
She got pregnant with her second child, bought her car and her first house that year. Her husband was also diagnosed with cancer.
Chow says her world collapsed.
With all her family back in the Philippines, it was tough, Chow says. Sometimes, she would drive out to the bush, blast music and cry for an hour. This was her way of releasing stress and emotions.
“I don’t think of problems. When I come to work, I leave all the problems at home. When I’m going back home, that’s the time that I will think about it again,” Chow says.
In 1999 and 2001, she brought her mother and sister over to Canada. Chow says she’s a family-oriented person.
“We help each other here. We work as a team,” she says.
Chow used to work three jobs to support her family: as a PSW at Extendicare, as a counsellor assistant at community living and running her cleaning business.
“I needed to make money because I didn’t want my kids to go without (it),” she says.
Chow taught her two daughters to work from an early age.
“I told them when their dad passed, I said, ‘We need to work as a team,’” Chow says. “My kids didn’t grow up with me easy. I wanted them to learn at a young age to be responsible in life. I didn’t want them to grow up like me. Because here, in Canada, you have to work hard to get where you want to be.”
Chow’s husband died in 2005 because of non-cancer-related issues.
Being a single mother with young children was tough, she recalls. She eventually quit all her jobs to be with her children and to concentrate on offering cleaning and homecare services.
Chow used to own three apartment buildings which she renovated for tenants.
“I made all the places decent for people to live,” she says.
She also used to have canteens at the bingo hall and Collège Boréal, and she ran a Country Style coffee shop at a gas station.
In 2018, Chow opened the Lady Luck restaurant. It’s fun running it because you need to love what you do, Chow says.
When she retires, Chow wants to split her time between Canada and the Philippines, where she has some properties and where she wants to build an apartment there.
Someday, she wants to sell the restaurant and focus on her cleaning business.
“Restaurant is a full-time commitment,” Chow explains. With her and another worker in the kitchen, they want to make sure the quality of the food is always consistent. “It’s hard to train someone to cook.”
Chow says she has no regrets in life and her only wish is to see grandchildren.
“I’m very simple but full of hope. I managed to conquer everything through God. I believe in Him a lot,” she says. “He wouldn’t give you anything that you can’t handle.”