Archive for the ‘Chinese Empire Reform Association’ Tag

525 Carrall Street

This 1985 ‘before’ image of a Chinatown society building would have looked very similar, although somewhat more battered, up to two years ago. Now after extensive repair and restoration work the building looks almost identical to when it was first built in 1903. Known today, and since 1923 as the Lim Sai Hor Association Building, it was first developed by Chinese scholar Kang You-wei, with financial support from leading local merchants (including Chang Toy, owner of the Sam Kee Company, who probably donated the land). It was the Vancouver home to the Chinese Empire Reform Association, an important Chinese-Canadian pre-Revolutionary association.

Kang You-wei arrived in Victoria in 1899 as a political refugee who escaped a death sentence in China after he supported the Guangxu Emperor’s short-lived reforms aimed at modernizing Chinese political, economic, military and educational systems. The Emperor’s aunt, the Empress Dowager Cixi, was opposed to modernizing the country and she carried out a coup d’etat three months after the reforms were announced, placing the Emperor under house arrest.

Kang You-wei hoped to raise support from American and British governments to restore the Emperor and the reformist movement, but he was barred from entering the United States due to the Chinese Exclusion Act and received little assistance from the British government. He was, however, warmly received by Chinese communities in Victoria, Vancouver, and New Westminster. Kang founded the Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA) in Victoria on 20 July 1899. This organization was also known as the Society to Protect the Emperor, or the Baohuanghui. One of their first pieces of business was to send a birthday telegram to the Empress Dowager which started: “Birthday congratulations. We request your abdication.” In 1903 Kang’s equally famous associate, Liang Qichao, laid the cornerstone of this $30,000 building.

Oddly, the original architect appears not to be known, although in 1914 W H Chow designed $2,000 of repairs to the building. It appears to have been built as two separate structures, with the Shanghai Alley part built separately and then linked. The original façade elements of the building that were recently replaced could have been removed when Lim Sai Hor Kow Mock Benevolent Association purchased and renovated the building in 1944-45. The family association for ‘Lim’ Chinese named members was established in Vancouver in 1923, although dating back to 1908 in Victoria. When the Association bought the building they paid just $10,250, and raised $26,000 by issuing shares to members to pay for the building and the renovations. There was a retail unit on the main floor, leased out; 18 rooms on the second floor, and the meeting room and offices of the organization on the top floor as well as another 8 rooms, which like the second floor rooms were leased to members as living space.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-2408

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