A three storey building was approved for the Sam Kee Company in 1912, designed by Kennerley Bryan, to be built by R P Forshaw at a cost of $16,000. This permit was for apartments/rooms; described in the more detailed press notice as “three-storey brick store & rooming house; facing is red brick relieved with green tile; window ledges cement; galvanized iron cornice surmounts the bldg.” (Sam Kee was essentially a fictional character, the merchant who ran the company was Chang Toy.) This doesn’t seem like an ideal location for a residential building, and what was built doesn’t fit the description exactly.
This part of Keefer didn’t reach Columbia Street, because False Creek was right there. Across the street from this building was the Vancouver Gasworks, with a pair of retort houses on the street, and gasometers to the south. In the previous few years the edges of the channel had been tidied up, straightened and turned into a coal dock to deliver to the gasworks coal yard. Until it was abandoned and filled in some years later it occupied the place where Columbia Street would be extended; just to the west of this building.
This building wasn’t shown in the 1913 street directory (when the property next door was identified as being occupied by “Foreigners”). It showed up in 1914 as ‘New Building”. In 1915 the Maple Leaf Rice Mills were shown operating here, at 147 Keefer. While it didn’t reveal the owner, it suggested the business was Japanese. A year later a Chinese operator had taken over, Wing Kee Rice Mills. This was a Sam Kee owned company that Fred Townley had been hired to design a building for in 1912. We’re reasonably sure that it’s actually his design for the Rice Mill that got constructed. Paul Yee says that Sam Kee had operated a rice mill in the city from 1908.
In 1924 the Rice Mills were no longer listed but the Sam Kee Company had moved their offices here from East Pender, and were still in business here in the mid 1950s. Today the building continues to houses office space – the same company was occupying the building in our 1978 image.