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
These two images, although thirty five years apart, appear almost identical. On the corner is a building we’ve previously identified on another blog. It was developed by one of Chinatown’s merchants, the Sam Kee Company, run by Chang Toy. Sam Kee acquired two 25 foot lots at the corner of Pender and Richards in 1904, and the Empress Rooms were completed in 1906. We haven’t managed to identify the architect. These days it’s the home of MacLeods Books. In 1981 the second store in the building, down the hill, was the All Nations Stamp and Coin Co; today it’s an Antiques and Collectables store, with
The other half of the block is Century House, built in 1911 for the Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation. The building was designed by J S D Taylor, an architect trained in Scotland. Canada Permanent operated at Century House until 1951. Since then, it has been home to an insurance company, a trade school, an antique store, a book store and a restaurant. Today it appears on the internet as a recording studio. The exterior is made of cut granite stone, except for two beavers and a lighthouse cast in concrete, which crown the buildings. It’s the emblem of the building’s developer.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E10.34
Here’s the three storey building on the north-east corner of East Pender and Columbia. It didn’t start life like this – it was a two storey building originally, and it was on the corner of Dupont Street (the previous name for this stretch of East Pender).
We’re not totally sure who designed it, or who developed it. It first shows up as the Avenue Hotel in 1896, and W S Cook was the proprietor in 1898. It was located in an interesting part of town that was partly Chinese (so the Hope Sun Co, tailors, were in a retail unit at 107 Dupont in 1898). However, the rest of the block was houses – housing the other main business activity that this part of Dupont was known for. Next door Mrs Laura Scott was resident, while at 115 Dupont Dora Reno was landlady, an American who a few years earlier had run a facility in Fairhaven, south of the border. They were by no means alone – the rest of this side of the block was occupied by young ladies including Pansy Moore, Frankie Preston and Florence Hastings.
In 1889 there had been a Chinese tenement, with Sam Lung’s laundry next door. By 1895 the site appears to be empty, and there were houses next door, occupied by Miss Mackenzie and Miss Jones. Miss Dora Reno was on the block then too, but at 131 Dupont. A year later this building, the Avenue Hotel was open, but the stores were still vacant. The ladies – or a number of ladies – were here (although only Frankie Preston and Dora Reno seem to be the long-term occupants of the block).
In 1901 Mr Cook was still proprietor of the hotel, and next door Laura Scott was landlady, with Dora Reno next door to her, then Miss Hill, Frankie Preston, Minnie Robertson, Hattie Stewart, Lottie Mansfield, Frankie Reid and Jennie Manning on the corner of Westminster Avenue (today’s Main Street). The 1901 Insurance map shows the Avenue as a Chinese Hotel. The 1901 census confirms an observation from the 1891 census – while Miss Reno, Miss Preston and the other ladies on the street were usually listed as having the profession of lodging house keepers, there were generally three, four or five other ‘lodgers’ – all female, often listed as seamstresses, milliners or dressmakers. Most, but by no means all were from the USA, with others from a variety of European countries including England, Ireland, Germany, and France.
It’s likely that this version of the hotel was built by ‘Sam Kee’. He hired R T Perry to design a brick hotel costing $15,900 to build on Columbia Street in 1911, although the clerk recorded a street block on Pender. The Archives have a 1912 register for the Great Northern Hotel in the Sam Kee Company records. The Sam Kee business was on the opposite side of Dupont as early as 1889, and we know Sam Kee owned the hotel in 1915; he hired W H Chow to design alterations to 107 East Pender and he also carried out repairs to a club in the building in 1917. By that time it was no longer the Avenue Hotel – it was the Great Northern Hotel (it changed it’s name between 1906 and 1907). It was associated with the great Northern Railway who had their railway station across the street, with the tracks running in north on a trestle over False Creek. A few years later they built a magnificent new station on the False Creek Flats (demolished in 1965).
Even up to 1911 W S Cook was still proprietor, an amazingly long tenure in a city that generally saw a revolving door of hotel operators. William Cook hailed from Nova Scotia, and had been in the city in 1892 when he bought a lime-burning business based on Dupont street from Donald Menzies. While his family seems to have missed the 1901 census, in 1911 he’s head of a big household with a housekeeper, two married daughters (and their husbands), two sons aged 19 and 15 and a 10 year old daughter.
The club that Sam Kee repaired was the Oceanic Club, and by 1917 the Sam Kee store was next door to the hotel in a 1903 building designed by W T Whiteway for Chu Lai, a Victoria-based merchant. Technically there was no Sam Kee – that was a company run by Chang Toy, but the company name is almost always referred to as if there was a real person. By 1917 there were no ladies on the block – they’d been run off (mostly to Alexander Street) and all the businesses had Chinese names.
By 1929 when this image was shot, the hotel and the area was still almost completely Chinese. The hotel was no longer a hotel, and no names are associated with some of the business – just ‘Chinese’ and ‘Chinese Rooms’, although W Santien & Co were identified as being at 103 E Pender, Chinese dry goods merchants.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-2465
The Chinese Freemasons Building, as it is now often called, underwent a significant renovation and heritage restoration in 2007. It was occupied from 1907 by Chee Kung Tong, described as a powerful secret society that supported Sun Yat Sen, viewed by most as the founder of modern China. In 1920 they changed their name to The Chinese Freemasons, (although they have no links to Freemasonry).
The building cost for a $20,000 3-storey brick and stone structure for stores & warehouse, for Sing Sam. The restaurant was remodelled at a cost of $1,000 in 1913 by S B Birds, and the Pekin Chop Suey House occupied the upper floors from the 1920s. These days it has residential uses on the upper floors.