Motorcycles and cameras were a passion for Jack Leong. In the late Forties and early Fifties, the rider and photographer trained his lens on the Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club of Calgary and captured a special moment in time.
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Established in 1939 by Walt Healy and a few other enthusiasts, the Ace-Hy club was active in the community sponsoring hill climbs, hare scrambles, ice racing and flat track racing. The group also routinely rode west to Banff, and farther afield on motorcycle adventures. But, in the mid-Sixties, the club began to languish, becoming only a memory to many of those who’d been involved. Not forgotten, though.
In 2018, the Ace-Hy name was re-established as the Alberta chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. The AMCA has more than 11,000 members and 75 affiliated chapters, including three in Canada. The Ace-Hy chapter of the AMCA now holds regular meetings and road rides, and last fall, hosted an antique motorcycle display at Village Ice Cream’s Victoria Park location.
That’s when and how an incredible archive of close to 500 images taken by Leong, who died in 2015, came to light. Leong’s daughter, Denise Eckert, follows Village Ice Cream on Instagram, and saw an Instagram post mentioning the event and was surprised to see the Ace-Hy name. When she commented her dad had been a part of the original Ace-Hy and possessed many photographs, current Ace-Hy member Kaetyn St. Hilaire asked if he could see them. Eckert agreed and allowed St. Hilaire to scan all she had – they now form the Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive (@acehymotorcycleclub on Instagram).
Born in Vancouver in 1923, Leong moved to Calgary with his parents when he was five or six years old. Leong’s father helped establish the local Shon Yee Benevolent Association and he went on to become quite prosperous. But that doesn’t mean Jack Leong didn’t work hard. According to Eckert, “True to his name, he really was a Jack of all trades.”
In his early days, Leong drove a truck, a taxi, had a grocery store, and was a partner in a sporting goods store. He later became an electrician and spent the majority of his career in that field. He was also passionate about flying and although he didn’t see action overseas, Leong was a pilot in the RCAF for two years during World War Two.
Post war, he returned to Calgary where he gravitated towards motorcycles. His machine of choice was an Indian Chief. Because he was riding a Chief, he became connected to Walt Healy who, besides helping establish the original Ace-Hy club, was proprietor of Calgary’s Indian Motor Cycle Sales and Service.
“I know my dad had other motorcycles that he raced and hill-climbed with the Ace-Hy, but he just really seemed to be passionate about Indian,” Eckert says.
He was also passionate about photography. Mostly self-taught, Leong went on to take some classes and subscribed to photography magazines, which he read cover to cover. According to Eckert, he loaded his own film, shot, and processed all of his own photos.
Although Leong was most often behind the lens of his camera, he can be seen in a few of the Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive images with his 1947 Indian Chief, sometimes with a sidecar attached.
It was through the Ace-Hy club that Leong met Jean Tewsley, his wife-to-be. “The club had so many social events,” Eckert says, “And that’s where they met. My dad was 26, and she was 18.”
Tewsley rode motorcycles, too, but after starting a family with Leong, motorcycles were given up.
“They did attend some Ace-Hy social events after getting married,” Eckert says, and continues, “When I was growing up, Dad didn’t elaborate very much on stories about motorcycles. I think he was somewhat sad about having to give them up but realized raising a family and starting a new career were now his priorities.”
Thankfully, however, the photographs of that era remain, and the images Leong took are being shared with others.
Eckert concludes, “That would have made Dad so happy, knowing they’re out there being enjoyed.”
Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or firstname.lastname@example.org