Archive for the ‘Wing Sang Company’ Tag

Canton Alley

This narrow Chinatown alley was, on some maps, Canton Street. It ran south from West Pender, which is where the buildings in the pictures are addressed to. We’ve seen the 1912 building (designed by J G Price) that fronted Pender until 1948, but this is an earlier building. The 2-storey building was developed by the Wing Sang Company in 1903, cost $10,000 and was designed by ‘Mr. O’Keefe’. Michael O’Keefe wasn’t really an architect, he was mostly a builder, but he was willing to design buildings for Chinese owners to build themselves. He didn’t even live in Vancouver; the only likely M O’Keefe we’ve found was a carpenter, and later a builder, living in Victoria.

Canton Alley, through the archway, was apparently developed in 1904, was a courtyard enclosed by two parallel rows of buildings running south from Pender Street. The permit for the construction describes a $50,000 project for ‘Five separate buildings on same ground’ on ‘CPR ground W of Carrall & S of Pender & N of Keefer Chinatown’, also designed by Mr. O’Keefe, but built by Yip Sang & Co. (Yip Sang was the anglicized name of the owner of the Wing Sang Company, and some early records switch ‘Yip’ and ‘Wing’). The premises were damaged in the 1907 anti-Asian riots, and in the subsequent hearings Wing Sang was described as owning half the buildings here. That was technically accurate, but overlooked the fact that the Lun Yick Co, a wholly owned Wing Sang subsidiary also owned property. Wing Sang may have been the lead owner with other Chinese merchants; although rivals in business, more expensive and ambitious transactions were often carried out by a consortium of owners. In 1911 several buildings were damaged by fire, and there were several buildings reconstructed on Canton Alley, and the entire Pender block was redeveloped as a six storey rooming house.

Canton Alley very quickly gained a reputation – and not a good one. The narrow space was home to over 500 residents, almost all men, packed in to small rooms with bunk beds. There was effectively an entire town centre in the alley, with grocers and general stores, restaurants, tailors, barbers, an employment agency and an umbrella repairer. In 1905 readers throughout North America could read about a dispute between partners in a Canton Alley tailoring business that led to two deaths. A row between two partners led to one owner, who wanted to split the partnership (and be paid out) shooting first the son of his partner, then killing the partner and then himself. The local press were happy to report the local police opinions. “Looks like a desperate dope fiend and crank,” observed Detective Waddell as he surveyed the hatchet-like face and glazed eyes of the murderer”.

In 1906, as the police closed down the nearby Dupont Street brothels, the Daily World reported that some of the women were moving to rooms in Canton Alley. Sure enough, by the end of the year police were raiding and arresting the ladies. “Celestlne Brown was named as the keeper, and Merle Thomas and Lena Hamilton as assistants”

The police interest in the ladies continued into 1907. Another raid was referenced in the Daily World, and suggested that 25 women were living in the alley. Belle Walker was fined $50 three days later, with a note adding “the police seem determined to put a stop to other than Chinese women living in the Chinese quarter”. Yip Sang was unhappy that his leaseholders were sub-letting their premises, but it was reported that a meeting at the Empire Reform Association got so heated that the landlords had to have a police escort to safely leave the meeting.

At the end of the year the intrepid Police Officer Latimer apprehended Fred Symonds in a Canton Alley house; he was wanted for beating a woman in the alley and stealing $50, using a ‘sandbag’ as a weapon – actually a length of garden hose with a iron bolt inserted. Attempting to escape arrest by using the weapon on the policeman added a charge of assault on an officer for the Ottawa-born Symonds.

Several assaults, sometimes involving firearms, were reported, almost always involving a gambling game. An opium den was raided in 1905, although the production of the drug in an adjacent building was a legal business at that time. Later raids through the 1910s, 20s and 30s for the same reason were taken more seriously, as the processing of opium was now illegal as well. In 1909 another sensational story filled the press, and was reported in other cities. A complex story of attempted murder and suicide saw Canton Alley’s illegal gambling under scrutiny after a stabbing nearly killed a would-be informer. He was apparently seeking payment to not tell the authorities about the death of another Chinese resident, a laundryman from Seymour Street who lost heavily at a game in Canton Alley, and refused time to repay his debts, chose suicide using opium. The newspaper in passing mentions that his was the third death from opium poisoning in three weeks.

Things seem to have quietened down once the buildings were rebuilt after several significant fires. There are reports of theft, a Chinaman was found shot dead, presumed murdered, but as no-one heard the shots that killed him no investigation seems to have been considered necessary. When the Daily World was reporting that a store holder was fined $10 for selling pears not properly marked under the Fruit Market Act (in 1912), then serious crime would seem to have slowed. In 1914 sacks of flour were stolen. Gambling and opium raids were frequent, and carried out with mixed success. (Several senior police officers found other employment over the years, having been accused of accepting bribes to turn a blind eye to illegal operations).

The Chinese population of the city fell after the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act (or more accurately, the Chinese Exclusion Act) forbid any Chinese immigration to Canada. Canton Alley remained occupied, although the street directory clerk couldn’t generally be bothered to record anything other than ‘Orientals’. The buildings here were eventually demolished in 1949. The site remained vacant for years, but in 1998 the CBA Manor and an adjacent building were built, designed by Joe Wai and Davidson Yuen Simpson. The 4-storey social services centre run by SUCCESS recreates the alley entrance as an entrance to a gated courtyard, (just as Canton Alley was after the 1907 riots).

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 689-56.

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Posted 8 October 2020 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Gone

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Pender Street and Shanghai Alley

Pender & Shanghai

This 1917 Vancouver Public Library image shows a five year old building. It faces West Pender Street, with the narrow face of the building on Shanghai Alley (shown as Shanghai Street on the 1912 insurance map). It was designed by J G Price for Lun Yick Co, a Chinese-owned company controlled by Yip Chun Tien (more often called Yip Sang, who also ran the Wing Sang Company). Price also designed the West Hotel for the same client in the same year, and the two buildings looked very similar.

As it was built in 1912 it wasn’t, as you might expect, the first building on the site. Wing Sang had built a 2-storey building here earlier – we think it was in 1903, designed by ‘Mr. O’Keefe’. Michael O’Keefe wasn’t really an architect, he was mostly a builder, but he was willing to design buildings for Chinese owners to build themselves. He didn’t even live in Vancouver; the only likely M O’Keefe we’ve found was a carpenter, and later a builder, living in Victoria. We know he took the steamer to cross to Vancouver in the early 1900s. The tunnel in the centre of the building (the only real Chinatown tunnel!) led to an alley – Canton Alley – although the 1912 insurance map called it Canton Street. A series of buildings were built here by Wing Sang over nearly 10 years, costing over $150,000 with this $55,000 investment.

The seven storey apartment building didn’t last all that long. It was demolished in 1948, and the site stayed undeveloped for many years. In 1998 the CBA Manor and an adjacent building were built. As far as we can tell they were designed by Joe Wai and Davidson Yuen Simpson. There is a 4-storey social services centre run by SUCCESS, and a commercial and residential building on seven floors.

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Posted 8 September 2014 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, East End, Gone

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West Hotel – Carrall Street

The West Hotel has been around for nearly a century, and is looking pretty good, considering. As this VPL 1951 picture shows, it did pretty well in the first half of its existence. The huge cornice was still intact and the BC Electric Depot nearby kept it busy (and is the said to be why it was so much bigger than most other hotels).

It was designed by J G Price, and completed in 1913 for Lun Yick Co, a Chinese owned company controlled by Yip Chun Tien (more often called Yip Sang, who also ran the Wing Sang Company).  The size of the hotel shows the resources available to the Chinese merchants in the city in the early part of the 20th Century. The Wing Sang company ran a trading empire, supplied labour and operating fish packing businesses as well as an opium factory (perfectly legally at the time). Today the beer parlour is still downstairs and the upper floors are now a privately owned SRO hotel.

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Posted 22 February 2012 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

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Wing Sang & Co – East Pender Street

Chinese merchant Yip Sang arrived in Canada in 1881 (from San Francisco, where he’d been working for 16 years) and headed for the Cariboo gold fields. He had no luck there, but more success when he got work as the supervisor of the Chinese work gangs building the Canadian Pacific Railway. When the line was completed he based himself in the new city of Vancouver, and in 1888 established the Wing Sang Company. A year later he was able to build a warehouse and store with living accommodation, and here he is in 1900 in front of it. on East Pender Street between Carrall and Columbia, with three children, and two wives. A year later he added a third floor, and built eastwards as his business expanded exponentially.

By 1908 he was reckoned to be worth over $200,000 and in time he came to own at least 16 city lots. In 1912 he added a new wing at the back of the Pender Street building to house his three wives and twenty-three children. The original architect of the two storey part has not been identified – although there weren’t too many choices in 1889. T E Julian was hired for the first expansion, and J G Price designed the third phase. He was actually a structural engineer, but not averse to calling himself an architect.

The official explanation for the second floor doorway is that goods were hauled up to the warehouse, but with no lifting gear it seems more likely to be an off-the-shelf design that contemplated the possibility of a porch across the sidewalk that was never actually built. There was a perfectly serviceable staircase on the outside of the east side of the building. The Yip family finally sold the building in 2001, and in 2006 realtor Bob Rennie initiated a multi-million dollar award-winning restoration designed by Walter Francl that put everything back the way it was designed (at the front), while creating an extraordinary art gallery from the rear building and the space between.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 689-52 and CVA 689-91

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