Archive for the ‘Chinatown’ Category
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,ooo. 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
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.
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.
Thanks 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.
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
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.
Here’s what looks like a companion image to our previous post. We think the taxi in the distance on the left was parked in the same spot, so the two shots were probably taken a few minutes apart. If we were correct in that identification, it dates from around 1980, when the Lee building (behind the circular red sign) had been rebuilt after a 1972 fire, and the Vancouver Centre (perfectly aligned behind the Sun Tower) in 1976. The building in the centre of the picture with the much larger top floor balcony was built for Chinese owners in 1923, designed by A E Henderson and originally called the ‘Business Building’. It replaced an earlier 1914 building designed by W H Chow.
The building with the red canopy was altered in 1921 to add a fifth floor, but it was originally built in 1913 by clothing mogul William Dick, designed by H B Watson and cost $30,000. Today it’s the home of the Mah Society (who carried out the 1920 alterations) and it’s currently receiving a comprehensive restoration. On the extreme right is the former International Chop Suey House, later Ming’s restaurant. We looked in greater detail at its history in an earlier post. This postcard gives a sense of what the restaurant was like in the late 1950s or early 60s.
There’s a Fred Herzog photograph of this block from 1968 that shows the street was still lined with telegraph poles that blocked some of the flamboyant neon that shouted for patrons to visit the restaurants that lined the street. This block has seen little apparent change to the buildings since the 1920s, and while other less historic parts of Chinatown are being redeveloped, little change is contemplated here.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-4779
This is another unidentified Archives shot, which we’ve pinned down (with no difficulty) to the 100 block of East Pender Street. Initially we suggested it dated from around 1974, when many of the undated images seem to have been shot. However, the Sun Tower stands alone in the distance but the Scotiatower (completed in 1976) sits right behind it. There are relatively newly planted trees, but the design of the ‘heritage’ lights is different from today, and the dragons haven’t yet been added to the lamp posts. On the right is the Lee building, rebuilt after a fire in 1972, and alongside is the Wong family association building built in 1921. Eagle-eyed reader Dave notes that the cars have white letters on a blue background, and the back plates have a red sticker along the bottom, This would date the photo between January 1980 to December 1981.
At the end of the block was the former Great Northern hotel which we think was built originally by the Sam Kee Company in 1911. We looked at that building (which had an extra floor added in the 1980s) in a several posts, most recently here, when we also noted the history we were able to find for the other structures on this block. Across Columbia Street there was a 1904 building developed by Loo Gee Wing, substantially remodeled in the 1930s and then rebuilt comprehensively in the 1970s.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-2380