The Ambassador of Magic

Northern Peaks
A Journal for Canadian Magicians

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 fifteen years. After all, he is in business for fun.

Tony Eng has performed for dignitaries such as Premiers and Lieutenant-Governors of BC; 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 on the 29th 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 twelve, 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 Circle and in 1970 he joined the IBM—in 1995 he attained the status of “Order of Merlin,” marking twenty-five consecutive years of membership.

In August 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. 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 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, Camosun College (a community college in Victoria), secured Tony as a guest lecturer each spring to teach their Bar Management course, which was 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 that would last for two decades. Back in 1980, Micky Hades approached Tony to perform close-up magic for a restaurant’s clientele, moving 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 also 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 twenty years, Tony decided to retire 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 ten successful years at the first location, the couple decided to up the ante again by moving up the street to a larger space, to their current location at 688 Broughton Street. Their hard work paid off. Today the shop is open seven 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-and-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 thirty-five-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, sixty 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 … and 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 devises and unconventional methods of producing them. A personal favourite is the one when  Tony invited a friend Michael Brough to dinner with a generous offer, “I’ll pay. My treat.” Michael, a fellow magician, whose primary vocation at the time was as a store detective, gladly accepted, but 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 meal, 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 from Michael’s coat! The more his prey protested his innocence, the more cutlery came out (Tony managed to reload Michael’s pockets dextrously and invisibly!)

After Tony had “unloaded” over twenty 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 seven to fifteeen. 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 to 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 thirteen 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.


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