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Hunky Bill, B.C. perogy pioneer, restaurateur, PNE mainstay, dies at 88

Hunky Bill, a British Columbia businessman, food icon and larger-than-life character, has died at the age of 88 Bill Konyk, shown in a handout photo, died of cancer on Tuesday evening surrounded by his family. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

VANCOUVER — Bill Konyk, a legendary Vancouver businessman who fought a human rights battle to maintain his nickname Hunky Bill, has died. He was 88.

His youngest son, Mark Konyk, says his dad will be remembered as a man who opened the West Coast to good Ukrainian food, adding he was a pioneer in educating people in B.C. about how to eat and make perogies.  

Konyk died of cancer on Tuesday evening surrounded by his family.

A statement from the Pacific National Exhibition announced “with incredible sadness” the death of one of its longest standing concessionaires. 

Konyk was a general sales manager for a Vancouver radio station in 1967 when he bet a friend $10 that he could get a booth at the PNE and sell his Ukrainian food.

A history of the business on his company’s website says Konyk convinced the exhibition to give him a booth and Hunky Bill’s Ukrainian food has been a mainstay at the fair ever since.

Hunky Bill was his self-adopted nickname and the trademark for his perogy, restaurant and retail businesses. It also prompted a B.C. Human Rights complaint in the 1980s when a group claimed it was a derogatory term.

An account of the 1982 decision in the Vancouver Sun says the complaint was dismissed by Human Rights Branch chairman Dermod Owen-Flood. In his decision he reportedly quoted “Alice in Wonderland,” saying “words mean exactly what the speaker intends, nothing more and nothing less.”

Mark Konyk said Wednesday his dad worked almost to the end of his life.

“He was used to doing the deliveries and doing everything else. Up until about a year ago he was still running everything, doing the deliveries and making sales where ever he could.”

Just two weeks ago he was at the race track in the winner’s circle after a friend’s horse had won.

“He was hooting and hollering, having a good time,” Konyk said.

Bill Konyk sold newspapers in Winnipeg on the coroner of Portage and Main, worked for the Winnipeg Free Press, sold cash registers for a company in Chicago and was the general manager of sales at CFUN radio in Vancouver, his son said.

When the family came to Vancouver, they couldn’t get the Ukrainian food they were used to eating, so his dad started importing food from Manitoba and that’s what led to the bet that started the perogy franchise, Konyk explained.

There were numerous restaurants and retail outlets in the Lower Mainland under the Hunky Bill’s name. Konyk said his dad also bought the Dover Arms pub in Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood. Those were all sold around 2000.  

The family is slowly getting back into the food stores, and still runs a food truck as well as maintaining its booth at the Pacific Exhibition.

Konyk said his dad opened the door for many other perogy makers.

“When he brought them out to the West, people didn’t know what a perogy was. He always said they thought it was a hockey puck or something.”

Hunky Bill is survived by his wife Kay and three sons: Bill Jr., Clayton and Mark.

Terri Theodore, The Canadian Press