Wing Sang & Co – East Pender Street

Chinese merchant Yip Sang arrived in Canada in 1881 (from San Francisco, where he’d been working for 16 years) and headed for the Cariboo gold fields. He had no luck there, but more success when he got work as the supervisor of the Chinese work gangs building the Canadian Pacific Railway. When the line was completed he based himself in the new city of Vancouver, and in 1888 established the Wing Sang Company. A year later he was able to build a warehouse and store with living accommodation, and here he is in 1900 in front of it. on East Pender Street between Carrall and Columbia, with three children, and two wives. A year later he added a third floor, and built eastwards as his business expanded exponentially.

By 1908 he was reckoned to be worth over $200,000 and in time he came to own at least 16 city lots. In 1912 he added a new wing at the back of the Pender Street building to house his three wives and twenty-three children. The original architect of the two storey part has not been identified – although there weren’t too many choices in 1889. The official explanation for the second floor doorway is that goods were hauled up to the warehouse, but with no lifting gear it seems more likely to be an off-the-shelf design that contemplated the possibility of a porch across the sidewalk that was never actually built. There was a perfectly serviceable staircase on the outside of the east side of the building. The Yip family finally sold the building in 2001, and in 2006 realtor Bob Rennie initiated a multi-million dollar award-winning restoration designed by Walter Francl that put everything back the way it was designed (at the front), while creating an extraordinary art gallery from the rear building and the space between.

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