Chinese Public School – East Pender and Jackson

The Chinese Public School, seen here in 1977, was only the latest use of this early building. From the appearance it’s reasonably obvious that it started life as a church. Looking on the 1912 insurance map, it’s listed as the Baptist Church. However, when it was completed in 1892 it was the Zion Presbyterian Church, with denominations playing musical chairs (or more accurately pews) in a few early years. In 1899 it had become the Zion Baptist Church, with Reverend J G Matthews in charge.

The history of the Presbyterian Church in Vancouver doesn’t mention this building, and it was odd that a congregation should exist so close to the First Presbyterian church which was only three blocks away, and built around 1893. The mystery was solved in a reference to the history of the Presbytery of Seattle. That says that there were 32 churches in the Presbytery of Puget Sound, including Zion Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. So it appears that this was an American arm of the church, founded in the early years of the city. We can find them meeting at first in a commercial building on Main Street, and later in the City Market. The Contract Record said in 1890 “The Zion Presbyterian Church will erect a $10,000 church – Mr. Thos. Hooper, architect for the new Y.M.C.A. building, has been instructed to prepare plans and specifications and call for tenders for the foundations at once.”

The Zion Baptist congregation also got off to a bumpy start. In 1898 the compilers of the street directory seem unsure of which brand of protestant faith to list, and played it safe with ‘church’. That might have been because the minister of the new endeavour was the Rev George Armour Fair. He was from Ontario, and his time in the East End was limited. By July of 1898, Fair “left the church . . . [and] with a portion of his former flock, organized a “non-denomination” group, which apparently held to a “Pentecostal” variety of doctrine.” He moved to a church in the West End, on the corner of Denman and Nelson.

The Baptists had formed a congregation in the area in 1894, and briefly their church was listed on the opposite side of Princess on the southern side of the street, (but also on Jackson). The Presbyterian congregation on Jackson merged in 1898 with the larger Hastings and Gore church, so in 1899 there were two Baptist churches shown on opposite sides of the street. One was the Jackson Avenue Baptist Church, and the other the Zion Baptist Church and Reformed Episcopal, addressed to Princess (which is East Pender today). By 1901 the short-lived Jackson Avenue church was no longer listed. A few years later the church in the picture was known once again as The Jackson Avenue Baptist Church, (although addressed to East Pender). In 1911 the church was altered and an addition was built, costing $6,000. The permit says J Carver was the architect and J G Price the builder. It’s likely that this was accidentally reversed; Mr. Carver was a contractor, and Mr. Price a consulting engineer, although that didn’t prevent him from designing many buildings including several significant ones in Chinatown. The photo on the right is undated, so we don’t know whether it shows the church before or after the 1911 changes.

In 1953 the Chinese Public School purchased and renovated the church. We don’t know how much the building was altered, but the ‘Chinese’ flared eaves in the image were added to the entry porch and tower.

The building was replaced in 1983 with the building designed by Hin Fong Yip that’s there today. It’s the Chinese Social Development Society, who operate a community centre, daycare, and on the second floor the Chinese Public School where Chinese language classes still operate.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-294 and First Baptist Church (Vancouver) Archival Collection.

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Posted 1 April 2021 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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