Archive for the ‘W H Chow’ Tag

Shanghai Alley

Shanghai Alley is more of a street than an alley, just as it was in 1944 when this Vancouver Public Library picture was shot. However, the wall of almost identical buildings on the east side has been lost; now there’s a gap where two buildings have been demolished. If you read many histories of this area you’ll see that this street and Canton Alley to the west were the core of the 1880s and 1890s Chinatown area. That’s a complete fabrication; the 1889 insurance map shows there was nothing built here. The 1901 map, superimposed over the contemporary lots, shows that four buildings existed, all facing onto Carrall Street, with no Alley behind. Instead there was an open area and freight sheds to the west, parallel with the Canadian Pacific tracks than ran diagonally across the area, running from the Burrard Inlet waterfront to the freight yard and engine shed on False Creek at Yaletown. We don’t know who built those 1901 buildings, that probably obtained permits in 1900. The Alley had appeared by the 1911 Insurance map, and the buildings extended to create the frontages that can be seen in the 1944 image.

There was an earlier building on West Pender, built in 1901, but the City took it for a road widening project over a century ago, leaving owner Sam Kee with what they probably thought was a worthless six foot deep strip. In 1913 Bryan and Gillam were hired to design what is said to be the world’s shallowest building, built with a steel frame at a cost of $8,000. Sam Kee wasn’t a person; it was a company run by businessman Chang Toy. When the City moved to expropriate the site to widen Pender Street, Sam Kee instructed their lawyer to negotiate for $70,000 compensation, successfully getting the $62,000 they estimated that the site was worth. Behind it, with frontage to both Carrall Street and Shanghai Alley is one of the other three 1901 buildings. The heritage statement says it was probably built for Kwong Man Sang Co, but there’s no permit evidence to support that, although they were the company occupying the building here in 1903.

In 1906 Chinese businessman Loo Gee Wing added the taller three storey element that you can see facing Shanghai Alley. In 1914 Lee, Kar paid for alterations designed by S B Birds, for ‘club rooms’ and more work carried out by Coffin & McClennan for Lee, Thung & Lee, Kar. This was probably an investment by the Quong Yick Co. Historian Paul Yee explained how the arrangement worked. “In 1907, fifteen Chinese led by the Lee Yuen principals formed the Quong Yick Company to buy land and buildings in the heart of Chinatown. They raised $20,000 among themselves with shares ranging from $250 to $4,500 and borrowed $30,000 to be repaid over three years. The building accommodated several Chinese firms as tenants, from whom $7,770.85 in rent was collected in one year. The property was registered in the names of Lee Thung and Lee Kar, but legal certificates drawn in English were issued to every partner recording his proportional entitlement to the property.

One of the two lost buildings was owned by Chow Joy Joo and Co. who hired W F Gardiner to design alterations in 1916. The Carrall Street side of the building added a new floor in 1909 King, Foung & Co, and Ah Mew made alterations in 1914, with Chow, T. Tong hiring Way, Chow for more work in 1916, 1919 and 1920. Tai Gin owned the next building along in 1917, when Get, Toy worked on a $1,000 alteration, and there were more changes in 1919 for owner Haw Ling Hing

The building that is still standing was originally the Chinese Reform Society, built in 1903 and altered to the designs of builder/architect W H Chow in 1914. Since 1945 it has been home to the Lim Sai Hor Kow Mock Benevolent Association, (The family association for ‘Lim’ Chinese named members), who purchased and renovated the building.

There was a brief period, around 1907, when the Alley and Canton Alley became home to the city’s red-light district. Chased off Dupont Street (East Pender today, a block or two to the east of here), the madams sub-leased space in the upper floor rooms of the buildings. When the police continued to raid and prosecute the ladies, the madams moved once more, to Shore Street (also nearby), before having to move again in the early 1910s to Alexander Street, away from the main Downtown of the day, where they built a number of decorative and expensive establishments.

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Posted 25 June 2020 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

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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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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.

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Posted 5 September 2016 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

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Franklin Street east from Commercial Drive

Franklin east

There’s buried treasure on the City Archives website in the form of thousands of images uploaded from the City Engineer’s collection, but with no description of what the picture shows. Here’s one that we’re dating to 1976, which we have identified as Franklin Street running uphill east from Commercial Drive. Today it forms part of the Powell Street industrial area, but it once had quite a different character. For a start, it wasn’t always called Franklin Street; it started life as Albert Street but got renamed in 1929 to avoid the confusion with Alberta Street. While we know who Franklin was,  nobody seems know who Albert was, so that’s another benefit.

At least one remaining building is over a hundred years old – Franklin House on the north side of the street dates from 1913 and was designed by W H Chow for owner Ah Sing, costing $35,000 for the “four-storey frame stores and rooms”. This wasn’t an isolated Chinese investment, there was significant development for Chinese owners in the area around here, especially on Albert Street (where development was mostly occurring on vacant lots). Although many of the names of tenants in this area in 1913 were not Chinese, it looks as if the main floor was initially occupied by Lee On & Co, who were described as ‘merchants’. They also operated in the traditional heart of Chinatown, occupying premises on East Pender. By 1915 many of the buildings in this new Chinatown area were listed as vacant, but it looks as if the apartments were known as the Peterson Apartments, managed by Mrs. C Harwood.

Franklin Apartments, Inlet View Court 1944 VPLThe building next door was another Chinese developed building, with an apparently traditional Vancouver Chinese design (with open balconies on the upper floors, seen better in this 1944 Vancouver Public Library image). It was a $12,000 development for ‘Kee, Kit & Don, Chow’, built by Rigby & Marsden in 1912 and designed as a three-storey brick store, hall & rooms designed by E Stanley Mitton. It was probably what the Province newspaper described that year as Mr Mitton’s ‘commercial block for the Chinese Society’. Mitton was born in Birmingham, England and mostly designed arts and craft homes for wealthy clients on the west side and Shaughnessy, so this commission is a bit unexpected.

It wasn’t Mitton’s only building here; he also designed a two-storey brick store & rooms (apartments) across the street which is probably the building on the right of the 1976 picture. It was built by Wilson & Smalles in 1912 at a cost of $12,000 for Chow, T. Tong & Kee, Kit – probably the same developers who built the 3-storey building. Owners Chow, Ting Tong & Kee, Kit also commissioned Mr. Mitton for a house they built on the 1900 block of Albert Street, so that’s probably Mr. Chow’s full name (and T Tong also commissioned a $28,000 apartment building on the 600 block of Harris Street). Mr. Mitton also designed a more expensive project for a Chinese client in 1912, a $46,000 Market Alley building for Wing Sang where he housed his extensive family. (which these days is the Rennie art gallery). Chow Tong was listed in the street directory in 1912 living at 804 East 12th Avenue, a house that cost $5,500 and was designed in 1911 for Mr. Chow by Stanley Mitton. Mr. Chow was listed in the Chinese section of the street directory as being in real estate – which these developments clearly support. Ting Chow also had Black Brothers design some alterations to his property at 229 Pender Street in 1912, and he had other property on East Hastings, Harris Street and Carrall Street up to 1916. Mr. Kee also had Mr Mitton design some improvements to his house on Lakewood Drive, the addition of a garage.

Mr. Kee may not have generated his investment funds entirely from legitimate sources. It appears that Kee Kit was also sometimes known as Wong Kee Kit, and in 1920 he was shown in the street directories as being the manager of a grocery company shown as Kwong Wo Long at 262 East Pender. The company had been in Chinatown for some time; they received some compensation in 1907 for damage in the riots that year to their property at 13 Pender Street. In 1921 someone with the name of Kee Kit – described as a manager with the Wong Wo Lung Company – was identified in a newspaper article as the alleged owner of a farm on Lulu Island in Richmond where $30,000 of opium was seized (said to be the highest value of opium ever found). “The police state that the farm was a distribution depot and that opium was sent not only into Vancouver and surrounding towns, but also across the United States border,” the Vancouver Sun explained. “In addition to the opium a complete outfit, alleged to be used in cooking opium, was also seized.” “Totalling up the seizure the officers found that they had 40 large tins, the retail value of which they estimate at $400 each; 39 smaller tins, of the kind usually retailed in addicts and opium dens at $100 each, and a bucket containing enough opium to fill 40 of these smaller tins.” After spending the night in jail, owner Kee Kit, and seven others arrested with him, were released on $1000 bail.” We haven’t been able to find out what happened to Mr. Kee after this.

Nearly forty years later, apart from the loss of the two Stanley Mitton designed buildings not too much has changed. The large new premises at the top of the street, on the right, are part of a complex of buildings found throughout this area that are the processing plant for Hallmark Poultry, one of the largest food processors in the city, designed by Christopher Bozyk Architects.

Image source, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-227

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Posted 6 April 2015 by ChangingCity in Altered, East End

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East Pender and Columbia – north west corner

E Pender & Columbia nw

With the attention that Chinatown is receiving at the moment as a few new condo developments replace vacant sites or failed 70s malls and a shuttered casino, no doubt any proposal to redevelop this corner would bring critics out lamenting the loss of another heritage building. Our 1978 (or so) image shows that the red brick structure that’s there today – or at least the exterior – isn’t a heritage building, it’s a rebuild of an older property. Not only that, it shows that in the past Chinatown merchants weren’t nearly as concerned about the Chinese character of Chinatown. The occupants of the building on the corner, C S importers Co Ltd, and the retail store, Trans-Nation Emporium Ltd adopted a distinctly Art Deco Moderne theme to their store decoration, with chrome lettering on a black shiny background and a chrome canopy over the sidewalk. The building dates back to 1904, when Loo Gee Wing, the Chinese merchant who developed throughout Chinatown and beyond, hired Emil Guenther to design the $21,000 building. No doubt Mr Guenther would have been able to identify his building in the 1970s, although the style of decoration might have surprised him. Mr Guenther’s history is apparently hard to confirm due to his name changing and partner hopping, but he was probably German who practiced across the US before settling in Vancouver.

Next door is an almost unchanged Chinatown heritage structure. Well, unchanged since 1926, when the third floor was added. Hodgson and Simmonds designed the recessed balcony addition, a perfect example of a non-Chinese architect interpreting Chinese design for a Chinese client. In fact, Simmonds was Australian. The architectural irony is that the original building was in the Italianate style (designed for a Chinese client). When it was built in 1911 it had two storeys, designed by Campbell and Dawson for Lang Kwan and built by R A McCoullough for $9,500. In 1915 W H Chow was the architect for $400 of alterations to the building for owner Chong Yuen. In the 1920s it became home to the Cheng Wing Yeong Tong Society.

Next door to that is another substantial building (for the time) that had a similar appearance to many of the other commercial buildings built at the turn of the 20th Century in the immediate area. We’re pretty certain the developer was Yip Sang, in 1908, (and the closest in design looks like W T Whiteway’s design for Yip’s Wing Sang Company, on the corner of Carrall Street, and built in 1902). Hing Sing was shown as owner when he obtained permits for $1,000 of alterations in 1909, Lim Duck Chew was listed as an owner in the same year for an address at the western end of the block, Fong Sun was listed as the owner who added partitions in 1910, and Jim Lin in 1916 altered the store front, and also made alterations to the western end of the building in 1917 – but they could all be tenants. It was demolished in the 1990s after a fire, and a new project stalled, and was eventually replaced in 2008 by ‘East’, a Walter Francl designed 6-storey condo building over two retail stores that we saw better in an earlier look at this block looking the other way.

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100 block East Pender Street – north side

100 block E Pender 3

Almost 80 years separate these images; the original identifies as a parade on Pender Street taken between 1936 and 1938, and the contemporary picture taken at this year’s Chinese New Year parade. As we’ve noted with so many Chinatown images, the important buildings have remained almost unchanged. Obviously the parade has changed – these days the cars are cleared from the street, and there generally aren’t any horses on parade (but this parade was advertising a Chinese historical production concerning the land west of Eastern Turkestan). The greatest difference in this set of four buildings is the Lee Building, to the west (the left of the picture) which was rebuilt following a fire and so today has open balconies rather than the closed stucco of the original building. (That stucco seems to have been added to a second bay of the building after 1925, as the Frank Gowan postcard we looked at before on the blog shows).

The narrower building to the east of the Lee Building was designed in 1923 by A E Henderson for Lung Kong Kung Shaw, replacing one designed by W H Chow in 1914. In this picture Kwong Yee Lung Co have their store name prominently displayed; they were at this location for several decades and dealt in Chinese herbs. It seems likely that Henderson’s client was a variant on the company name, as they hired contractor C Duck to make alterations to the previous building in 1920, and were still occupying this location in the mid 1950s.

Next door is a 5-storey 1913 building designed by H B Watson for William Dick at a cost of $30,000. Originally four floors high with the Kwong Fong grocery on the ground floor, the Mah Society acquired the building in 1920 and added a fifth floor in 1921 designed by E J Boughen. William Dick was a clothing company mogul; we’ve seen one of his properties on West Hastings. We assume this building was purely built as an investment, just like the houses he built a few blocks away. In 1917 W H Chow made some changes to the building for Yam Young.

The final building in this group was once known as Ming’s Restaurant, with extravagant neon announcing the business. the Good Luck Cabaret also operated in the building – a use that continues today as the Fortune Sound Club. In 1913 Yee Lee owned a property here, and Toy Get carried out some alterations for him. In 1919 Mrs Smith was the owner, and builder R P Forshaw carried out further alterations. The current building was designed in 1920 and built a year later by W H Chow (with W T Whiteway helping out to get the necessary permits, as in 1921 Chow was refused admission to the newly-incorporated Architectural Institute of BC, despite his extensive experience). The description of the building’s history notes that “The original facade decoration was classical, with pilasters, capitals, and a deep cornice. This was made more ‘Chinese’ in 1977, with the addition of Chinese (and English) characters on the frieze, and decorative panels and balcony railings.” There were Chinese characters on the front of the building in the 1930s through to the early 1970s, but in the 1930s there was also the English words ‘International Chop Suey’. That restaurant pre-dated Ming’s Restaurant, and was here throughout the 1920s and 30s. Ming’s was operated by Hong Wong, and advertised ‘authentic Chinese dishes at moderate prices’ and attracted both Chinese and non-Chinese diners, with many wedding banquets  being held here.

Image Source CVA 300-101

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East Pender Street – unit block (2)

 

E Pender unit north alt

There has been recent commentary suggesting the new developments in Chinatown are changing its character and threatening the heritage of the area. So far that really hasn’t been true – the sites that are being redeveloped are all either replacing recent (and unimpressive) buildings, or have replaced modest older structures that were too far gone, or small, to save.

Here’s our second look at the unit block of East Pender on the north side of the street; (the first post looked at the other half of the block). Here we’re comparing 1981 and today, and if anything the street is in better condition: all the heritage buildings are still standing and almost unchanged. Up the street the Chinatown Gate has been added, and beyond it the Chatham Steel services depot has been replaced with a housing project for Chinese seniors and other community services. (The steel depot replaced Yip Sang’s much larger tenement building).

From the right, and moving west, we can see the Yue Shan Society buildings – the edge of the 2-storey building that dates back to 1889, and the 1920s design by W H Chow for the three storey structure. Between the two buildings is a narrow alley that leads to a courtyard; behind that is a third building (from around 1914) that also fronts Market Alley (running parallel to East Pender). The Yue Shan Society provides aid to immigrants from Pan Yu (Yu Shan) County, near Guangzhou, China, and have occupied these buildings since 1943.

Next door are two buildings that we featured a couple of months ago; the R J MacDonald designed Wong’s Benevolent association from 1910, and Ming Wo Cookware that we think is earlier and developed by Wong Soon King. Beyond that is the Chinese Times building, developed by Yip Sang who hired W T Whiteway to design it, (and later W H Chow designed alterations).

Image source: Peter B Clibbon

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Posted 29 December 2014 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, East End, Still Standing

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123 East Pender Street

Wong's

It would seem that this building was originally built in 1908, although we don’t know who designed it. It’s attributed to W H Chow – but we haven’t found anything to confirm that, although he did design the 1920 alterations.

The first buildings on this site were two houses, addressed as 117 and 119 Dupont Street. They were on the site before 1901 – in 1895 the first time they appeared in the street directory they were occupied by Miss Annie Hood and Miss E Johnson. The ladies’ profession was one of the reasons the street name was switched from Dupont to Princess in 1898, once they’d been persuaded to move on.

A little later the name switched again, this time to East Pender, and in 1908 this location appears as ‘New Block’ and a year later a series of Chinese businesses had opened their doors, including Charlie Won & Co who sold cigars and fruits, and Yuen Sang Co listed as Chinese merchants. When it was first built this really wasn’t a Chinese-styled building at all, although it was in the heart of Chinatown, and all the tenants over the years were Chinese. That was the rule – not the exception – in design terms; there were no ‘Chinese’ style balconies on any Chinatown buildings built before 1900, and relatively few before 1910.

There’s a permit to David Lew for 1910 to build a brick building on this site, but only for $550 – so possibly an outbuilding on Market Alley (at the back of the building). In the same year Loo Gee Wing, a very active Chinese developer also obtained a permit for changes to an office in the building. David Lew knew Loo Gee Wing – he had been his secretary from 1901 to 1905, having had a Canadian education in his teens, and probably training as a lawyer (although being Chinese he wasn’t permitted to practice law). Given how much property he owned nearby, it’s entirely reasonable to think Mr Loo might have been the developer of the building in 1908. (Mr Lew became an important Chinatown interpreter; he represented all the Chinese traders who sought compensation in the 1908 hearing chaired by McKenzie King. His death in 1924 was dramatic; he was shot to death outside 5 West Hastings in a professional ‘hit’ that was never solved.)

By 1913 a Mr. Hamilton was the owner of the building. F Hamilton hired C Ting to make repairs in 1913. (There’s another permit for 1914 when W H Chow designed repairs for Quang Sang & Co at 125 1/2), and then a series of further repairs for owners identified as F J Hamilton in 1915 for 125 (again by W H Chow), repairs designed and built by Toy Get for ‘Hamilton’ in 1916, for M Hamilton in 1917 and N Hamilton in 1918. Finally W F Hamilton made repairs to 121 E Pender in 1917.

We assume all these various Hamiltons were really Frank Hamilton, who is said to be shown in the picture. Frank is elusive – various Francis and Frank Hamiltons come and go, but in 1915 a Frank J Hamilton was living in an apartment in Nicola Street. There’s a picture of a new 1908 house on Burrard Street identified as belonging to Francis J Hamilton, and another (or the same) Frank Hamilton was a resident in Cedar Cottage in South Vancouver, working for the Vancouver Creamery Co.

Around 1920 the building was acquired by new owners. The elaborate balconies were added in 1921 when a $14,000 reconstruction of the upper part of the building took place. The top floor of the 1908 building was removed, but the store front looks as if it’s still the original 1908 millwork. The architects were G L Southwell and J A Radford – although neither were well-known architects; Southwell was a draughtsman (wrongly identified as Southall on the permit) and Radford was frequently employed by the Vancouver Sun to illustrate articles and prepare reviews of exhibitions. Their clients were one of Chinatown’s family associations, the Wong Kung Har Tong (the Wong family association). A 1920 permit had been submitted by W H Chow to add an extra floor to the building. Although he was highly competent, and very experienced, Chow was refused admission to the Architect’s Institute, so it’s quite possible that the Radford and Southwell design was really his. There were new meeting rooms behind recessed balconies, a key feature of the later Chinatown architectural style.

Other community associations also came to be associated with the building including the Chinese Community Club and the Hai Fung Association. They show the evolution of the role of community associations in Chinatown; the Hai Fung Association is a more recent youth organization established independently of the older place and surname associations. Hai Fung attracted new immigrants who brought with them new ideas about the meaning of being Chinese in Canada, challenging the established tongs.

The Mon Keang School was established on the third floor in 1925, teaching the Chinese language and customs to the tusheng, or children of overseas Chinese born in Canada. This reflected the value placed on education in perpetuating Chinese culture, and because it gave Canadian-born children the skills required to function successfully in a predominantly Chinese-speaking environment.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P717

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23 East Pender Street

Ming Wo

The Ming Wo store location started life in Chinatown just after the street had been renamed (in 1907) from Dupont to East Pender. There was a buildings here in 1889, but the 4-storey Ming Wo building was built in 1907. It was built for Wong Soon King who headed a company that bore his name, but who also controlled opium processor and dealer Hip Tuck Lung. That company operated from the other side of the street at 4 East Pender for many years, but in 1908 they moved to 23 East Pender. Hip Tuck Lung were one of the bigger opium companies; in 1908 the local newspapers reported that William Lyon MacKenzie King was shocked to discover they made a profit of $180,000 in the previous year. (Paul Yee in Saltwater City says their gross income was reported to be $170,000). MacKenzie King was in town to settle claims for damages after 1907 anti-occidental riots, but returned to Ottawa determined to close down what he was surprised to find was a completely legal business.

Hip Tuck Lung, in 1908, were said to have been in business for 22 years (which would put the business founding close to the creation of the city in 1886). They show up as importers of opium in the 1889 street directory. Their earlier building shows up in the 1891 street directory, occupied by Miss Della Montague, one of a number of ‘ladies’ whose mostly night-time business was concentrated for a while on Dupont Street.

In 1900 ‘Wong Sing King’ was one of the founding members (and recording secretary) of the Chinese Empire Reform Association, a charitable body whose intent, in part, was to be achieved “by promoting and encouraging the general education of the Chinese peoples in the principles of British constitutional government”. He stayed in the city for many years. In 1911 Mrs Wong Song King was detained for two weeks at William Head after a crew member on her cruise from the Orient on the Empress of India contracted smallpox.

The ‘official’ version of this building says it was designed in 1913 by W H Chow for Wong Soon King. There is a permit for $3,000 of alterations to the building that year, but Mr. Chow isn’t mentioned; Wong Soon King is owner, architect and builder. There’s another permit a year later; here W H Chow was the architect for a $4,000 office and store at 23 East Pender for C S Shue, who was also the builder. Then in 1915 there was another alteration, designed by Lee Hing for Wong Sim King for $2,000 of changes to a restaurant. That would be the Kong Hong Low restaurant at 23 1/2 East Pender.

This is a confusing set of permits: we know Wong Soon King owned the property, and clearly made alterations both in 1913 and 1915. So why would a different owner apparently build the building at almost the same time as these alterations? The permit doesn’t seem big enough to pay for the building either: in 1910 the building to the right, (on a similar scale) 29 East Pender was designed by R J MacDonald for ‘Su, Lee Wo Co’ and cost $19,000. That might be See Lee Wo, who sold general merchandise, although the company operating here in 1910 were Lee On and Co, who sold dry goods, and were also at 45 East Pender.

One possible explanation is that the W H Chow permit was for 93 East Pender – W H Chow made some minor amendments to a property owned by C S Shue at that address early in 1914. He also carried out work at 27 East Pender. In 1914 the owners Yuen, Yuen & Co hired W H Chow to carry out $1,000 of repairs. They were tea and rice merchants.

The 1907 development of this building has been dug out of newspaper reports. Wong Soon King built it at a cost of $15,000, but the application was by his business, Hip Tuck Lung, mostly concerned with processing opium (as noted above). There’s no architect mentioned associated with the project. These new premises had a total of 13 ‘ovens’ operating – one of the largest opium processing businesses on the west coast, with product intended for the Chinese market, despite the fact that the Empress of China had made opium use and processing illegal. The opium processing ceased after new laws changed its status by 1910. In 1915 the Hong Kong Club were at 23, and in 1917 Ming Wo moved in to sell cookware – a business still there until 2020, when the business owner retired.

Next door 27 East Pender was one of the earliest ‘Chinese’ styled building in Chinatown. Before that most Chinatown buildings could have been anywhere in the city. The Chinese Benevolent Association Building built in 1909 was the first with the upper floors featuring recessed balconies and building-wide glazing facing the street. This was a little later in 1910 (and completed in 1911), designed by a western architect, Robert J MacDonald, to reflect local preferences. Hon Hsing, a Chinese martial arts school, was established here in 1938, perhaps the earliest in Canada. In 2014 there was a store that reflects the changing face of Chinatown; Bombast is a manufacturer of contemporary furniture.

Our photograph dates from 1981, from a collection we have recently been given access to. We look forward to featuring several more from the same source.

Image source: Peter B Clibbon

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Lee Building – East Pender Street

100 blk E Pender

Here’s a 1925 postcard by Frank Gowan of the north side of the 100 block of Pender Street. Many of the buildings are still the same today, although one has been effectively rebuilt (although you would hardly notice at first glance).

The Lee Building is in the centre of the image; the central arcaded ‘Chinese style’ building. It was built in 1907 or 1908 by the Lee Lung Sai Business Company, although there’s no record of who designed it. This was a ‘family association’, but seems to have been purely a money-making venture rather than a family support building. It was one of the earliest Chinatown family buildings, and all the money raised to build the structure was provided by people with the name Lee. While many of the Chinese family buildings had accommodation and a hall for meetings, the Lee building only held a small office for the organisation’s own use, with the rest of the space leased out.

Around 1920 the building was sold to Lee Bick, (Ron Bick Lee) and his family still owned the property in 1971 when all the buildings in the picture were recognised with heritage status as part of the area’s historic area designation. The building was occupied over the years by a number of importers, retail merchants, restaurants, and clan associations. Lee arrived in Victoria at the age of 18 in 1910, working at a local restaurant in Victoria’s Chinatown.  He moved to Vancouver in 1916, working in various restaurants, hotels and import stores. Lee opened the Foo Hung Company in the Lee Building in 1921 and the import-export business went so well that he expanded into the greenhouse business, operating the Grandview Greenhouse on 50 acres in East Vancouver during the Depression. Lee was actively involved in the community through different associations, including the Chinese Public School, the Lee Association, Chinatown Lion’s Club and the Toi San Benevolent Society.

A year after the heritage designation the Lee Building was almost completely destroyed in a fire, and Robert Lee decided to rebuild. The city’s Historic Area Advisory Board initially advocated reconstruction but then, because of building code constraints, accepted the restoration of the facade as a free-standing frame and the construction of a new building behind it, which was completed in 1973 to designs by Henriquez and Todd. Today the facade has a modern building behind it (set back so that it resembles the balconies of the original structure), an open courtyard fronting the third bay of the building on the west side, with parking space off the rear lane.

The arcaded building to the west of the Lee Building is the 1921 Wong’s Benevolent Association building. There was a 2-storey building here in 1910 (and some reports suggest 1904), but in 1921 two more floors were added, designed by J A Radford, (G A Southall and W H Chow are both also associated with the rebuilt design). From the mid 1920s the Mon Keang School was in the building, providing language lessons to the Canadian-born children of the Chinese community.

The narrower building to the east of the Lee Building was designed in 1923 by A E Henderson for Lung Kong Kung Shaw, replacing one designed by W H Chow in 1914. Closer still is the 5-storey 1913 building designed by H B Watson for William Dick. Originally four floors high with the Kwong Fong grocery on the ground floor, the Mah Society acquired the building in 1920 and added a fifth floor in 1921 designed by E J Boughen.

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