Archive for the ‘Chinatown’ Category

Vancouver Soda Water Works – 719 Gore Street

There were three Meikle bothers in Vancouver, and they all lived in this house and business on Gore Street when this picture was taken at the turn of the 20th Century. John D Meikle was aged 32 in 1901, William was 30 and Douglas was 34. All three brothers were from Scotland, with John, the head of the household arriving in 1894, and his brothers joining him in 1898. Meikle Brothers ran the Vancouver Soda Water Works from around 1900 here on Gore at the corner of Barnard (Keefer) Street.

Early soda bottles from the company show ‘Black Bear Brand’ ginger beer in ceramic bottles (that sell today at auction for several thousand dollars). The business prospered, although Douglas Meikle seems to have left the city quite soon after 1900. In 1904 the business became a limited liability company with $25,000 in shares issued, “to purchase or otherwise acquire the business, property and assets of Meikle Brothers, carrying on business in the City of Vancouver, as manufacturers and dealers in mineral and aerated waters”.

The Meikle’s seem to have picked up an earlier business; the Vancouver Soda Water Works had been in business as early as 1888, located a block west of here in the 700 block of Westminster Avenue (Main Street today). Initially it was run by A C Murchison & A F Derraugh, and in 1890 just by Mr Murcheson (who was Archie in the 1891 Census, but listed in the street directory as Colin), who moved the business to this address in 1892. He was from a Scottish family, but had been born in Ontario. Around 1893 the business seems to have closed for a while, and in 1894 it resumed operations, run by Alex Calley, (wrongly altered to Alex Kelley in 1899), partnered with G D Cross. From 1900 to 1905 George D Cross had his own Soda Water company on Pender Street, later run by A D Hossack after G D and J D Cross severed their relationship with Cross & Company in January of 1905, although the company continued in operation under the original name.

By 1908 Meikle Brothers were merged with Cross & Company and had moved to Richards Street, and of the three brothers only John D Meikle was still in Vancouver. Cross & Co continued in business making flavoured soda until the 1960s. These premises were taken over by Bell & Tedsbury, a lumber supplier, and G N Transfer Co. After the first war S Konokogi, a blacksmith occupied this location, with Joseph Robertson, a cooper, who remained here until the 1920s. By 1930 the site had become the Gasoline Alley service station run by Benjamin and Harry Felstein, later renamed to the Gore and Georgia Service Station, owned in 1950 by Joseph Lopez. In 1999 a new 2-storey retail building was completed, designed by Scott Gordon for J & F Investments.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu P25

Posted June 19, 2017 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Gone

Tagged with ,

2 West Pender Street

This sliver of a building has just been given a 21st century ‘makeover’ with the addition of a light show to an otherwise modest insurance office. The justification for the show is that, according to the Guiness Book of Records, this is the shallowest commercial building in the world; (not the narrowest). It was built in 1913, designed by Bryan and Gillam for the Sam Kee Company and cost just $8,000 to erect. (Behind it is a tenement building developed by another Chinatown merchant, Wing Sang).

It’s a good example of the hassles faced by the Chinese merchant community in the early days of the 20th Century – and their resilience. Sam Kee was an invented name for a company run by Chang Toy. He had built a 2-storey brick building here around 1901, one of several significant hotels and commercial buildings he developed. When the City of Vancouver moved to expropriate the site to widen Pender Street, Sam Kee instructed their lawyer to negotiate for $70,000 compensation in order that they achieved the $62,000 they estimated that the site was worth.

Our 1920s Vancouver Public Library image (above) shows that not content with getting the money, Chang Toy then got his architects to devise a steel framed structure that would maximize the development potential of his site, which was on average only six feet deep, and slightly less at one end. He added a barber’s shop (in 1920 it was run by Foo Key), and public baths in the basement, lit with glazed blocks set into the sidewalk. The main store was occupied by Sam Shing Lin Kee & Co, a shoestore.

In 1936, when the image above was shot, this may not have been an all Chinese tenanted building. While Chin Kee had a shoe repair business here and Y Kee was offering to repair or clean and press laundry, hotdogs and hamburgers only cost a nickel in the centre booth. Hires is a brand of root beer – still manufactured today and the second oldest soft drink brand in North America, dating back to 1875.  The corner unit, not visible in the picture, was the home of the Wong’s ‘Modernize Tailors’ store.

By 1961 when Walter Frost photographed the building (left) there was a tailor, Mr. E Rogers, and Wong’s jewelers and camera store (where they also cut keys) in the other half of the building.

Image sources; Vancouver Public Library and City of Vancouver Archives Bu N158.3 and CVA 447-346

Posted May 8, 2017 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

Tagged with , ,

Carrall Street – 400 block

None of the three buildings shown in this image (probably dating to early 1906) are still standing today. Indeed, we don’t think any of them lasted more than 10 years. We think the original brick building closest to us only stayed up for eight years, and was built in 1903. We’re pretty certain it was designed by W T Whiteway for Sam Kee, the company run by Chang Toy, described as ‘Brick & stone building’ and according to the permit, costing $12,000. The Sam Kee name can be seen on the building, and this is where the company was based for a while. Kwong Fat Yuen Co also had their name on the building; for a short while they operated as labour suppliers, and may have been related to a company of the same name in Shanghai.

The Daily World of June 19, 1903, confirms the building’s planning – with either a typo or price inflation: “Chinatown’s progress; A permit was taken out this morning for a building adjoining the tramway company’s property of Carrall Street for a Chinese firm. Mr. W. T. Whiteway is the architect. The building is to be two stories high and to be built of brick and stone. The cost is to be $13,000”. The building had a third storey added around 1907, but was demolished around 1910 and replaced by the BC Electric Railway Co’s building designed by W M Somervell, completed in 1911. That structure, still standing today as offices and a retail showroom, cost $350,000 and was built by McDonald and Wilson. No doubt Chang Toy made sure he was appropriately compensated for selling his property.

Beyond it to the south was the Chinese Methodist Mission fronting Pender Street. It was designed by Parr and Fee in 1899, and replaced only seven years later (soon after this picture) by the Chinese Freemasons Building constructed in 1906, for the Chee Kung Tong – a ‘secret society’ founded in the middle of the 19th Century by Chinese working in the BC gold fields. The permit, in summer 1906 was to Sing Sam, for a $20,000 3-storey brick and stone structure for stores & warehouse. Dr. Sun Yat Sen is reported to have stayed in the building, probably in 1911, while raising funds for his revolutionary Kuomintang party during his period of exile from China. It appears that the building may also have been mortgaged by the Tong in 1911 to support the revolution. In 1920 the organization changed their name to the Chinese Freemasons, although they are not associated with traditional freemasonry.

The original architect has not been identified; it could have been W T Whiteway who had several commissions in Chinatown. Alterations to the restaurant in the building costing $1,000 were designed by architect S B Birds in 1913; the owner was still Sing Sam. There was also a branch of the Bank of Vancouver on the ground floor. We don’t know a lot about Sam Sing, but we know he was wealthy enough to guarantee the $500 head tax for Fung Ying Quoy, and that he is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. He ran a store in the East Hotel (also designed by Samuel Birds), and in 1907 his business was based at 1 Canton Street, the address for which he received $335 in compensation for damage after that year’s anti-Asian riot.

The building was home to the Pekin Chop Suey House, whose slogan can still be seen today. The facades are all that remain of the original building; they were retained when the rest of the building was demolished in 1975, after a fire, and it was remodeled again in 2006 with architect Joe Wai restoring some of the lost heritage elements, and converting the upper floors to residential use.

Across Pender street was another Sam Kee property. We don’t know when he built this one, or who designed it, but it was 2 storeys, and already shows up on the 1901 insurance map – which was probably when it was built as before that the street directory suggests it was Cleeve Canning & Cold Storage Co and Bradbury & Brown’s stone cutting yard. This building lasted about 10 years, but in 1910 the city expropriated most of the land for road widening, leaving the company with a ‘useless’ (or so the City thought) six foot sliver. Chang Toy wasn’t too hard done by; the Sam Kee firm instructed its lawyer (W A Macdonald K C) to start negotiations for compensation of $70,000 to reach the desired value of $62,000. Then Bryan and Gillam were hired to design the $8,000 steel framed building that still stands there today on the shallow lot, completed in 1913, which added additional space under the sidewalk to squeeze in a barber’s store and bath house – but no secret tunnels.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-522

145 Keefer Street

145 Keefer 2

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.

Posted September 12, 2016 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

Tagged with , ,

252 East Georgia Street

260 E Georgia

Our 1978 image shows two adjacent buildings that had fairly recently been renovated to match each other. The four window building closest to us was originally constructed in 1930, while the three bay building next door to the east possibly dates in part back to 1910. It’s possible that the earlier building was significantly altered in 1930 when the nearer structure was built; both got another make-over in 1974.

The smaller 1930 building was a residential and commercial building built by Chinese trader Hok Yat Louie. He arrived in Canada from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong at the end of the 1890s, paying the head tax to be allowed to live in Victoria. Having been a farmer in China, he moved to Vancouver and worked in the Hastings Mill, and then as a market gardener on the north shore of the Fraser River. He learned English from a textbook while riding his cart to market in Vancouver, and in the early 1900s had saved enough money to open a grocery store and farm supply business on Westminster Avenue (today’s Main Street). He was supporting his wife and children he had left behind in China, but could also afford to have a second wife arrive from China. They would have eleven children together, and a few years later Hok Yat was sufficiently successful in business to acquire the A Urquhart Block on East Georgia (across from these buildings) where the family lived until he built this new property in 1930.

Journal-of-Commerce-Oct-23-1929-p1-252-E-Georgia-StThanks to Patrick Gunn’s research we know that when the 1930 building was constructed, the Journal of Commerce reported it, and so helped identify the designer. While he wasn’t allowed to call himself an architect (because he was Chinese, and so couldn’t register as an architect), W H Chow had designed many of Chinatown’s buildings and improvements over several decades.

Given the context of the time, the investment was pretty remarkable. The recession caused by the stock market crash of 1929 was in full swing. W H Malkin, a rival (and much larger) wholesaler had been elected mayor in 1929 and immediately moved to limit what he called ‘Oriental stores to fixed Oriental districts’. The three large food distribution companies in the city (including Malkin) did their best to ensure H Y Louie couldn’t easily buy from major suppliers, severely impacting the profit he could make as a wholesaler. Minimum wage legislation in the late 1920s had also had an unfortunate impact on the Chinese workforce who were Louie’s retail customers. If employers couldn’t pay their Chinese workers less, then many preferred not to employ them at all. At one point during the recession, it was estimated that 80% of Chinatown residents were jobless.

Hok Yat took his first and only trip back to China in 1934, where he visited his 92-year-old mother and saw his first family for the first time in nearly 40 years. He never returned to Vancouver, dying in Hong Kong on the return journey. The H Y Louie company passed into the control of his eldest sons, Tim, who was only 21, and Tong, a year younger. They nursed the company through the recession and into the middle of the century, expanding steadily, establishing the IGA brand in British Columbia in the 1950s and acquiring London Drugs in the 1970s.

While the older building to the east is said to have been altered and utilized by H Y Louie in 1930, we’re not so sure that the alterations were substantial. The building had originally been built by M O’Keefe for Champion and White, a building supply company whose main warehouse was round the corner on Westminster Avenue. They built a two-storey structure here as a stables, obtaining a permit in 1909 for a $12,000 investment. The 1930 insurance map shows it was two storeys, with a hay barn over and two automobiles parked at the back with access from the lane. W H Chow’s design in 1930 for H Y Louie’s building isn’t really contemporary, so we surmise that he took his design cue from the adjacent warehouse that H Y had also acquired (possibly some years earlier). It’s likely that the façade we see today was altered when the use switched from stables to warehouse. Champion and White had stopped using the stable some years earlier – the 1928 street directory referred to ‘Chinese stables’.

The family were still using the premises in the 1950s, although they no longer used the building across the street. Today Chinese retail businesses occupy both stores here, with a seafood market in the H Y Louie 1930 building and a produce and grocery store in the former stables next door.

Posted September 5, 2016 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

Tagged with , ,

250 East Georgia Street

250 E Georgia

Remarkably, the commercial building on this East Georgia lot is less than a decade old. It was only completed in 2007; with a permit issued to Young Engineering, although we think veteran Chinatown architect Joe Wai was also involved with the design.

Before the new commercial and residential building there was a small house. We’re not completely sure when it was demolished, but the site sat empty for at least ten years. The house (which started life as 234 Harris Street) was built before 1900. In 1891, James Foley was living here, which seems to be when the house was built. He was listed as a driver, and briefly shared the house with Patrick Foley, a fisherman. The 1891 Census shows that James had a new job: he was Brakeman on the railway. Like his younger brother Patrick he was born in Ireland, and he wasn’t in the house for much more than a year. He seems to have gone back to being a teamster, and had Room 11 in the Dunn Miller block in 1892. L G Dodge, a carpenter, moved in to replace him. He stayed a few years, and then left the city, replaced by William Martin, an expressman, in 1898. By 1901 he had also moved on, with John McEachern, a builder living here. He was 42, and his wife Addie was 35, both born in Ontario, and both showing ‘Spiritualist’ in the census column that noted their religion. Their 11-year-old daughter Mildred had been born in the US, (they were married in Minneapolis in 1887), but Kenneth, who was four, was born in BC.

There were several John McEacherns born in Ontario in 1859, but noting the significant number of Simcoe residents who ended up living in Vancouver, it would not surprise us if he was born in Nottawasaga, a small town that saw an apparent exodus to Vancouver at the end of the 19th Century. We haven’t tried to trace all John’s movements, but we know that in 1920 they were living in San Francisco with Addie’s sister, Mary Tomlinson. In 1940 John and Addie were still living there, aged 81 and 73, and Kenneth was aged 43 and living with them.

Today it’s home to three apartments and China Housewares Discount Centre Ltd. “For all ceramic and porcelain figurines, kitchen wares, gifts and housewares”.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-358

Posted September 1, 2016 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Gone

248 East Georgia Street

248 E Georgia

This modest building dates back over 80 years. Our image shows it occupied by the Surrey Produce Co. As we’ve noted in other posts, Chinatown has seen a mix of Chinese and western businesses in the past. The Surrey Produce Co were an egg wholesaling business who occupied the building in 1946. It was run in the 1940s and 50s by Alfred W Cook, and still operating here in our 1978 image.

International Produce Company, a wholesale business run by Wong L Chew were in the building before Surrey Produce. The company were located in 1935 at 550 Union Street and run by C S Guy. Mr Chew’s involvement with the company coincided with the relocation to this new building, in 1936. The business appears to have closed in 1942, although Mr. Chew was still living in Chinatown. The building was vacant until 1945 when the Street Directory says Traders Service briefly occupied it that year before Surrey Produce moved in. They were a cartage, storage, distribution and trucking company based on Railway Street.

The building permit shows the building cost $5,000 to build; well-known contractors Baynes & Horie were the contractors, and Alfred Horie was the owner. Alfred was the son of the building company’s co-founder, William Horie, and in 1935 was superintendent of the company’s construction activity, although his father was still involved in the business as well. Alfred had built himself a house in 1925, but this is the first investment property we’ve identified for him. He managed the company until 1956 when it was known as Alfred Horie Construction. Although there are no family members involved, the company is still in business today as the AHC Group.

Today Nam Bak Enterprises operate here, one of many Chinatown stores offering a variety of dried Chinese foods and herbal products.

Posted August 29, 2016 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing