Obituary: Tony Eng lived a magical life

Former owner of Trick & Joke Shop succumbs to leukemia and skin cancer

Jeff Bell, Times Colonist
Published: Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A meeting of the Victoria Magic Circle last night turned into a memorial for one of its most accomplished members, Tony Eng, who died Sunday at the age of 61.

The hope when the meeting was planned was that Eng would present his namesake trophy to the winner of a competition for the best close-up magic trick. Instead, fellow magicians like Shayne King took time to share thoughts of a man they respected and admired.

“He taught me a lot, he gave a lot of magicians their start,” said King, who managed Tony’s Trick & Joke Shop for Eng. He has continued at the store since it became Murray’s Trick & Joke Shop two years ago under Murray Hatfield. Hatfield said running the store has shown him just how far-reaching Eng’s influence has been. Eng’s legendary demonstrations of his sleight-of-hand at the store counter were a long-time attraction, Hatfield said.

“I can’t tell you how many times since we took over the shop that I’ve had people coming in and saying thinks like ‘We’re here from Bakersfield, Calif. and we were here five years ago, and it was just the high point of our trip'”.

It was all because of Tony and the way he made people feel.

“Tony was a master and definitely one-of-a-kind, and he will be greatly missed by both the magic community at large and by a lot of non-magicians who just happened to come in and meet him through the shop.”

Hatfield said that many people he speaks to are finding the news of Eng’s death hard to believe.

“This has been such a blow. For the last three days, I’ve been hearing nothing but people just being in shock. Tony was such an awesome guy — not only was he an exceptional performer and a great businessman, he just was a really nice man.”

The response to his death means a great deal to the family, said Sandra Eng, one of his two daughters.

“The word is starting to ripple out there now and it touches my heart every time I hear how significantly Dad made an impact on people.”

She said her father, born in Victoria in 1946, was diagnosed last October with both a form of leukemia and a rare type of skin cancer.

His fascination with magic went back to his early childhood, she said.

“He got his first magic kit when he was eight and did his first paid gig at the age of 12.”

His ability as a musician had him performing at innumerable charity events over the years. He also became a Sunday night fixture at the Japanese Village restaurant, where he entertained diners for two decades.

Her father had many interests outside of magic, as well, his daughter said, and entrepreneurial skills that saw him run a successful wholesale business and establish the Premier School of Bartending.

“He loved to play racquetball. He was a fierce competitor and his Y buddies are going to sorely miss him. He also went fly-fishing, he did woodworking and he went RVing. Mom and Dad started travelling in the last few years quite a bit down south to Arizona.”

A tribute is set for 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.


Magician is ready for his grand finale

For Tony Eng, parlour tricks are more than a game — to him, they’re a way of life

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 Page S1
Special to The Globe and Mail

VICTORIA — Tony Eng dazzled a small crowd at his magic shop yesterday with a humorous display of sleight of hand.

“Did you bring some money with you? Did you bring a bill I could borrow?” Mr. Eng asked 14-year-old Jacob Kadziola. “See if you can weasel one out of your dad.” A fiver was handed over.

“Do you have any idea what these bills are made from?”

“Paper,” Jacob said.

“Silk fibres. Spell the word silk,” Mr. Eng instructed.


“And what do cows drink?”

“Milk,” the teenager replied.

“Water, water. Stay with me,” Mr. Eng said as the other adults laughed.

“It’s only five bucks. I’m going to roll it up into a tube like this and give it two taps. One hot . . .” He tapped the roll. “One cold.” He tapped again.

“Now I’m going to fold this for you four times,” he said, folding the bill into a tight wad.

“I simply blow on it and instantly it changes into a one-hundred dollar bill!”

The adults muttered mild oaths of surprise under their breath. As he handed the bill back to the boy, Mr. Eng replaced the brown Robert Borden for a blue Wilfrid Laurier faster than the eye could see. Jacob did not hide his disappointment.

When not performing one of his 200 annual shows, Mr. Eng can be found practising the sly arts of prestidigitation at his Tony’s Trick and Joke Shop. The store, in downtown Victoria, is an emporium of the amazing, the bizarre and the grotesque.

Mr. Eng’s hands and digits remain nimble after a lifetime of legerdemain.

At 59, though, he feels it will soon be time to hang up his Loopy Loop Endless Chain. The 50-year show-biz run by a restaurateur’s son is coming to an end.

“I’m in the twilight of my performing days,” he acknowledges.

He has even sold his store to a fellow magician and, as of January, will no longer perform his spontaneous one-man shows for customers.

Until then, he still gets a kick from the oohs and aahs to be had by beguiling tourists with his skills. He is particularly adept at causing cash to vanish. Though an honest man, Mr. Eng’s slippery fingers make him someone to avoid at the poker table.

The shelves of his store are filled with enough decks of crooked cards to warm the heart of the cruellest card cheat. He has magic paraphernalia to last a decade of children’s birthday parties. He has a wide assortment of Billy Bob Teeth, including such models as Jethro, Big Cletus and Austin Powers.

He also sells a 75-cent pair of dice and a $250 custom-built, aluminum-and-wood guillotine whose name — The Arm Chopper — says it all.

At $78, his Vanishing Champagne Bottle costs as much as a nice Veuve Clicquot, although it is debatable which disappearing act would be more fun.

He also has itching powder and sneezing powder, fake spilled ink and fake blood stains, faux vomit and faux doggie doo, not to mention a selection of whoopie cushions and remote-control flatulence machines to please the most discerning of scatological clients.

Novelties provide income, but magic is his raison d’être.

Mr. Eng, who takes part in international magic conventions, has come a long way for a boy who once coaxed tips from patrons at the family restaurant by performing tableside card tricks.

Anthony Wayne Eng was born in Victoria on his mother’s 24th birthday in the spring of 1946. At the age of 8, an uncle bought him a modest Cups and Balls set. The boy quickly mastered the classic disappearing illusion.

“I could amuse and amaze my friends,” he recalled. “More importantly, I could amuse and amaze adults. Being able to pull the wool over adult eyes was quite the feat.”

His parents ran the Beacon Cafe in Sidney, a landmark at Third Street and Beacon Avenue patronized by passengers queuing for the ferry to the San Juan Islands and Anacortes, Wash. The boy was soon working the tables for tips when not peeling spuds. The café’s patrons enjoyed the act far more than his parents.

“They were thinking, ‘Don’t bother the customers.’ ”

His father, an immigrant from China who cooked at a lumber camp at Ocean Falls, B.C., before becoming head fry chef at the grand Empress Hotel, failed to appreciate his youngest child’s hobby.

“To him it was a total waste of time. ‘Why don’t you read some books and become a lawyer. At worst, you can be a cook,’ ” Mr. Eng remembers his father saying.

At 14, the boy found a mentor in Bill Weatherill, a barber who moonlighted as a magician. Two others, Art Curtis and Lon Dingwell, completed his tutelage.

“I was so lucky to learn the stories, to see the routines,” Mr. Eng said. “Not just how you do it, but why you do it, and how you present it. I was learning from masters.”

He made his debut at the local Kinsmen Club, a near-fiasco because he had packed his silks a week early to avoid last-minute mishaps. By the time he pulled them out for illusions, they were wrinkled beyond belief and a discerning eye would have been able to spot his switches. He made $5 for the gig.

Stage disasters come with the act. Once, during a mall fashion show, he sawed his wife, Ann, in three pieces. He shoved the box holding her midriff to the side, but was then unable to get it to return to place.

The struggle with the broken apparatus lasted seconds, but felt like an eternity.

“Finally, I had to forcibly open the doors. My wife ducked down and got out. We bowed and everybody applauded anyway.”

He had met his beautiful assistant on a blind date. She became a part of his act before they married in 1968.

Their daughters, Julie and Sandra, were incorporated into the act not long after they could walk.

“I always thought to have them in the show would be a cheap way to get applause,” he said. “People just adored them.”

Today, Sandra, 32, is an architect in New York, while Julie, 33, is a full-time magician based in Toronto. His looming retirement is made easier with the knowledge that a half-century of tricks of the trade have been passed on to another generation.

Back in his shop, the self-described Ambassador of Magic gave a 20-minute lesson to a boy. He was no less bedazzled than the gape-jawed adults surrounding him. In fact, one was particularly struck by the money-changing trick.

“I’ve got some more fives,” the father said.


The Ambassador of Magic

Northern Peaks
A Journal for Canadian Magicaians

Volume 5, No. 2 May 2002


Every life has many phases and Tony Eng’s is no exception. The erstwhile scrawny kid from Sidney, BC has evolved, grown and matured to become the magician known to many as “The Ambassador of Magic”.

When you walk into Tony’s Trick & Joke Shop in Victoria, BC, not only do you enter into a world of fantasy filled with cloaks, capes, wigs and make-up, but also a Victoria landmark. Here, childhood’s bright-eyed excitement and wonder are rediscovered. A man stands behind the counter; a charming, puckish, balding man, with a glint in his eye and an impish grin. He beckons you over. He is your guide into that childhood world where the impossible is real, where magic exists. His name? Tony.

Within moments a small crowd has amassed and the spell has been cast. Tony is now in his element. During the crowd’s short tour he manages to vanish a silk, retrieve it inside a borrowed $5 bill – a bill, which he has stabbed repeatedly with his pen only to reveal that it is undamaged – then he changes that very same bill into a $100 note, and then back to $5. At some point during his whirlwind of magic he has stolen some poor woman’s watch. Of course, he returns it to the woman, as she is about to leave his shop. It seems that returning the watch – the surprise and shock from the woman – is more satisfying to Tony than stealing it in the first place! This is a typical visit to Tony’s, which he has owned and operated for the last 15 years. After all, he is in business for fun.

Tony Eng has performed for dignitaries such as Premiers of BC and Lieutenant-Governors; and yet, since childhood he has treated each and every onlooker as special. Every person brings a unique story to the table, one that makes the magic more astounding and memorable for all present.

Bert Caine observes: ” Tony likes to entertain and loves people. He even laughs at his own jokes. He is sincere. He would sometimes begin by saying ” I would like to say that this is the brightest audience that I have ever appeared before, but I can’t”.

When asked to comment about Tony, fellow illusionist and friend Murray Hatfield says: “One of my favourite things about touring Canada each year is my annual visit to Victoria and the chance to spend a bit of time with Tony Eng. He always welcomes us all and makes each member of my cast and crew feel like an important visitor to his shop and city. Tony’s always been a joker and over the years has become sort of an honorary member of the Illusions Tour. All new dancers, technicians and magicians on my show are taken on the annual pilgrimage to his shop. After half an hour with Tony, his humour and his incredible close-up magic they’re converts and fans!”

Noted magician John Carney has this view: “No visit to Canada is complete without a trip to Tony’s shop to enjoy his wonderful smile and hospitality. It’s always a delight to visit with Tony Eng, the ‘Ambassador of Magic’.”

Tony’s Trick and Joke Shop is the culmination of an interesting journey. Tony Eng, the youngest of four siblings — gifted with a unique sense of “timing” — was born on his mother’s birthday in May 1946 in Sidney, BC. Young Tony was a hard-working student who loved sports and excelled as an athlete. When the time came, he worked in the family restaurant. From a very early age Tony became involved in the hospitality industry.

Tony’s mum would say that the ‘magic bug’ bit him at the tender age of eight. Having learnt some magic from the local barber, Bill Weatherill, young Tony thrilled his parent’s restaurant clientele with table-magic. Later, at age 12, he braved his first stage show performing for the local Kinsmen Club. Once Tony graduated from high school, he moved to Victoria, BC’s capital. There he met his second mentor, Art Curtis who shared the secrets of the stage with Tony. Later Tony would meet his third and final mentor, in the form of Lon Dingwell. The latter two broaden Tony’s interest in magic dramatically, and introduced him to the local magic community. 1969 saw Tony join the Victoria Magic Club and in 1970 he joined the IBM – in 1995 he attained the status of “Order of Merlin”.

In 1968 Tony married Ann, who was already integrated in the stage shows. Two more assistants would join their stage performances as the act grew with daughters Julie and Sandra. “Friends would come to visit our house with the hope of seeing my Dad come out of the genie’s bottle!”. Ever the joker, Tony had, unintentionally, created a phobia in his daughters: “Neither of us wanted to ever look like Dad…” says Sandra, recalling a line he’d always use in the act after a double-bouquet flower production, since, in his words, “These two bouquets remind me of my two daughters: one’s a budding genius like her mother… And the other? A blooming idiot like her father…”

In the early 1970’s, Tony began work as a bartender and found that magic had a natural fit to the bar environment. Victoria quickly learned of this talented bar magician, with his natural charm, quick wit and jovial sense of humour. For several years, Tony gained formidable close-up magic experience, all the while exploring and expanding his increasing repertoire.

This phase came to an end in the 1980’s when second-hand smoke in the work environment became too great a health risk. A big vocational change was imminent but what? Not one to let anything go to waste, Tony decided to utilise the knowledge garnered as a bartender and created a bartending school of his own: The Premier School of Bartending.

This highly successful move only furthered Tony’s diverse skill at entertaining. Mixing his engaging charm with sound, sagacious experience Tony created a course that was fun but informative; entertaining but practical. His course was noted for its thoroughness, structure and depth by the Bartenders’ Union. In fact, the course was so successful and highly respected that it was accredited by the Union and it became the mandatory course for its membership.

After significant recognition, community college, Camosun College, secured Tony as a guest lecturer each spring to teach their Bar Management course, part of the Tourism and Hospitality program. He taught the college courses simultaneously with his own, sometimes teaching three different groups of students a day! And of course, during the classes, Tony again found his strength and advantage by mixing magic with people. His lessons were very well received, and continued for seven successful years.

And, in the midst of running and teaching at his bar school, performing at corporate functions and public venue shows, Tony also began a working-relationship would last for two decades. Back in 1980, Micky Hades approached Tony to perform close-up magic for a restaurant’s clientele, going from table to table after dinner. This was the beginning of a very close relationship between Tony and the client, The Japanese Village Restaurant. For twenty years, every Sunday evening, he performed table magic after the “Teppanyaki” dinner service. Tony’s finesse and style elevated him from a mere ‘restaurant magician’ – he became part of the restaurant’s family. Again, drawing on his hospitable nature, Tony not only entertained guests but he made them feel welcomed and valued. It was a very fruitful relationship and for many customers Tony’s magic and charm became the primary reason for visiting that restaurant on a Sunday night. After 20 years, Tony decided to take a break and retired from these weekly performances on 17 December 2000.

But his real calling came in 1986 when a golden egg was placed before him: the local joke shop was up for sale. Tony, as a child, had always dreamt of opening his own magic emporium and could not turn a blind eye to the chance that lay before him. He and his wife, Ann, decided to make the bold move from their successful bartending school to retail sales. They moved the old shop to a more central location of Victoria and, in the summer of 1987 Tony’s Trick & Joke Shop, instantly became a hit with the city.

After 10 successful years at the first location, the pair decided to up the ante again by moving up the street to a larger site, to their current location at 688 Broughton Street. Their hard work paid off. Today the shop is open 7 days a week, has diversified to include the sale of novelties, theatrical make-up and wigs, and has even stretched into cyberspace:

With its challenges the shop also brought many rewards to Tony. For example, the very nature of the business opened a new network to many other magicians, both visiting and local. Tony and Ann have hosted numerous lecturing and visiting magicians over the past years, broadening the “magic” exposure to the local community. His self-imposed ambassadorial role (giving first-time visitors a tour of Victoria is mandatory when staying with the Engs!) is a clear example of his generous nature and hospitality. No one leaves Victoria disappointed, under Tony and Ann’s care and attention! Tony is the first to say that none of this could have been achieved without the support of Ann’s tireless efforts.

He and Ann have also attended vast numbers of conventions as both as attendees and as dealers, which further strengthened their relations within the larger magic community. From intimate, club-hosted one-day conventions to the large-splashy Vegas-sited ones, Tony and Ann have seen it all. They have also have participated in the organizing and hosting of countless conventions in Victoria since Tony joined the club in 1969.

Over the years, Tony’s skill has also been put into practise over the many years at the shop. Every chance he gets, Tony is trying out the “latest and greatest” moves that he’s read, seen or heard about. Never idle, nor satisfied with his status quo, Tony is constantly pushing his skills to new levels. His latest accomplishment is a new routine, “Card on the Box”. A product of many different routines, Tony has found his own personal application and has introduced a new version. This particular routine has blossomed from years of tweaking at the shop thanks to his many visitors at the shop. And it’s clear he has benefited from the hard work. Being at the shop day in and day out has really sharpened and refined his sense of misdirection and skill. What else can one ask for than a full-time practising gig?!

And with such a lot of practise, Tony has also matured significantly over the years, magic wise. From a very good magician he’s become excellent: he is in constant demand for corporate events; last year completed a successful national lecturing tour on close-up; he’s been invited to attend the prestigious “Fetcher’s Finger-Flicking Frolic” in New York state.

Today the shop is less dependent on Tony and this has freed his time to perform more corporate shows, to tour his “Mysteries of the Orient” show, and despite his huge love of magic, (as friend Leo Haglund of Portland, Oregon comments, “Tony does not DO magic, he LIVES it”), he still manages to find time – frequently – to participate in racquetball and tennis matches.

A natural athlete and 35-year member of the YMCA, his competitive nature is nonetheless imbued with impish fun. Friend Murray Hatfield observed: “One thing I’ve learned over the years is to never underestimate Tony. I made that mistake some years back when he invited my friend Clark Robertson and me to play racquetball. In my head I figured that we’d whoop him and whoop him good. Well, 60 agonizing minutes later I was drenched in sweat, sore all over and fully humbled. He, of course, didn’t break a sweat. And, of course he didn’t gloat…(for months afterward).”

And he’s been known to pull many practical jokes on his colleagues and friends but is always gregarious, gracious, gentlemanly and great fun. On another occasion, Tony defeated an old foe. So immediately he commissioned some caricatures of a vanquished racquetball opponent being stunned and repulsed by contorted toes on a foot. The drawing, which had the fitting caption: “The agony of ‘da feet’!”, was plastered all over the club. All members know when he’s had a great game when several copies of the “Victoria Bugle” show up all over the sports club, with its headline proclaiming Tony as “The Racquetball King”. (The Victoria Bugle is a joke newspaper that Tony’s shop produces with customized headlines….when it comes to headlines, Tony is the king!

As for his impish nature, again Murray Hatfield points to an example: “A few years back I got an odd request. Tony, remembering an old routine I did in my show where I ended up wearing a Superman costume, asked if I would be willing to part with it. I wasn’t using it anymore so I figured why not? I thought he was probably going to use it in his show, but no, he just wanted to wear it at an annual racquetball event that he was playing in. There’s a mental picture I think will be with me for a long time!”

And the fun doesn’t stop at the club….with a glimmer of mischief in his eyes, Tony is always ready to pull practical jokes on his friends and colleagues. He takes pride in his creative devise and unconventional methods of producing them. A personal favourite: Tony invited a colleague, Michael Brough, to dinner with a generous offer, “I’ll pay. No strings attached…”. Michael, (a fellow magician) whose primary vocation at the time was as a store detective, had no idea what he was in for.

Upon arrival at the restaurant, Michael was completely unaware that Tony had earlier convinced the waitress that he was chaperoning a kleptomaniac on a day-pass. After a sumptuous dinner, as Michael went to put on his coat, Tony says, “Now Mike…(sigh)…really … you shouldn’t do this …” as he began to pull out handfuls of cutlery, ashtrays, and salt and pepper shakers!! The more his prey protested his innocence, the more cutlery came out (Tony managed to reload Michael’s pockets dexterously and invisibly!)

After Tony had “unloaded” over 20 settings of cutlery and the like from Michael’s jacket, the waitress stepped aside shaking her head as she watched Tony escort a befuddled Michael out of the restaurant. Once outside in the car, Tony was doubled over in laughter. To this day, I still wonder how he managed to keep a straight face during the stunt. It was not a practical joke that the store detective easily forgot…or forgave! But that’s Tony…ever mischievous!

Talent is great but a personality is key. Tony has fantastic sleights under his belt but it’s the experience that has made him a star. As Jack Poulter has remarked: “[In one of his routines,] when a woman opens her hand which is supposed to contain three coins and finds that a fourth, which moments before was on the back of her hand, her scream of surprise tells me that he doesn’t need the knuckle-breaking moves to sell his skills!”

It is vital for Tony to live life to the fullest; to have a good laugh; to have fun, however he also gives a lot back to the community. He has performed on several occasions for the Chinatown Lions, numerous times on the Lion’s Timmy’s Easter Seal Telethon and is the driving force behind the Victoria’s SYM, or Society of Young Magicians – promoting magic in young people from the ages of 7 to 15. He has served on many service clubs’ executive, being a past president of the Lions Club of Victoria and former director of the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians (PCAM). Currently, he is the International Brotherhood of Magician’s Territorial Vice President for BC and spends a great deal of time, during his very hectic schedule, promoting the art of magic to others throughout the province.

His main volunteer efforts, however, benefit his IBM Ring: the Victoria Magic Circle – The Ernie Crockford Ring #183, a ring where he has held all of the executive positions at least twice. Tony is a regular attendee, participant, volunteer and lecturer at the club. Any volunteers to perform for seniors homes? Tony’s the first to step up the plate. Need the illusion act to close the Annual show? Tony will take the day off and haul his trailer to the venue and load in his show. And it doesn’t stop at shows and performances: he provides space at his shop so that the club has a central location for their library and has been producing the club’s Newsletter for the past 13 years. Says Ron Bell, active member of both the IBM and Victoria Magic Circle, and friend: “It is my belief that Tony is the rock on which the Ring is founded. He is always there when needed as a performer, advisor or friend. The Magic Newsletter, which he started and has looked after for many years, is the cement, which binds the members together. He truly is a West Coast treasure!”.

And it’s true: Tony is a rare find. His sort of generosity, hard work and warm personality is a gift to those he comes into contact with. When asked to describe Tony, his friends and colleagues are always quick to point out his great love of magic and impish charm – but they never forget to say how loyal and generous his friendship is. Murray Hatfield comments, “Above all Tony has the gift of making everyone who comes into contact with him feel like a true friend. I know I do.”

And he’s still learning….diversifying his skills yet again, Tony is now taking guitar lessons, tooling away in his workshop doing wood and metal work. He and Ann are avid “RVers” (they have a 25′ recreational vehicle!) and travel tremendously on weekend getaways. And, while being interviewed, he adds fishing to his new-interest list…a list that is ever growing for Tony. His journey may be taking different turns now, but it is clear he is edging into semi-retirement.

But give up magic? I don’t think so. The Ambassador of Magic loves it too much – and magic will always love Tony.


Julie Eng, daughter of Tony and Ann, is also a professional magician who resides and works out of Toronto, Canada.

Reprinted with permission from the Canadian Association of Magicians.