Take an architectural walking tour around Vancouver’s Chinatown. Between 1881 and 1885, 10,000 Chinese workers were hired to come to Canada and help build the railway. Subsequently, many settled in Vancouver and built Chinatown.
|Elevation change||14 m|
At the beginning of the 20th century, this district became the primary business and residential area for the Chinese community. Chinatown retains much of the architecture and atmosphere from those early beginnings.
A good starting point for this walk is the Architectural Institute of BC (AIBC), located at the northeast corner of W Pender St and Cambie St.
This walk follows paved sidewalks and streets with curb ramps at corners. This route is wheelchair accessible.
Points of interest
- W Pender Street
- Shanghia Alley
- E Pender Street
- Sun Ah Hotel and Benevolent Associations
- VanCity, CIBC and Pender Market
- Kuomintang and HSBC Building
- Keefer and Columbia Street
- Dr Sun Yat-Sen Garden
W Pender Street
International Village - 88 W Pender St
1998 - This new mall includes four residential towers, a cinema and a large enclosed atrium. It has not been a commercial success as the local community has not embraced the facilities. The most successful operation is the Tinseltown Cinemas.
Sam Kee Building - 8 W Pender St
1913 - According to the Guinness Book of World Records this is the thinnest commercial building, with a width of 4 feet 11 inches. This was a large lot prior to 1913 when the City expropriated most of the land for street expansion. Mr. Kee rebuilt on the remaining 4 feet of his linear property. The basement extends under the sidewalk to 10 feet, and the top floor has bay windows which extend to 6 feet.
Architect: Brown and Gillam
E Pender Street
Wing Sang Building - 51 E Pender St
1889 – This large building extends north from Pender St. and is Chinatown’s oldest building. It was once an opium factory then an import and export business. The owner lived in the back rooms with his four wives, four daughters and 19 sons. It now houses the Rennie’s art collection.
Sun Ah Hotel and Benevolent Associations
Lee Association - 127 E Pender St
1907 - The associations were based on common surnames or places of origin and provided members with a sense of family connection and communal support. Jack Lee is the grandson of the founder of this association. He is carrying on the family tradition by conducting his law practice from the building. There was a fire in 1973, and while the facade was saved, the rest of the building is new.
Architect: Henriquez and Todd
VanCity, CIBC and Pender Market
VanCity - 188 E Pender St
1971 - This is the first post modern building in Chinatown. It integrates aspects of the Chinese style with a recessed balcony and lace iron work.
Architect: Birmingham and Wood
CIBC - 501 Main St
1915 - This temple-style beaux arts bank was built in a neo-renaissance style typical of Shanghai’s Bund. On the front of the building, decorative elements include banded columns, a pronounced pediment, and caduceus (a winged staff with entwined snakes). The caduceus is a symbol known to represent medicine but was originally the symbol of commerce.
Architect Victor Horsburgh
Pender Street Market - 200 Block E Pender St
This section of Pender Street is well known for its Chinese markets which open onto the sidewalk and display traditional dried foods and medicines. Bins are placed on the sidewalks for easy shopping and price comparisons. Many items are purchased by weight and sit in large containers offering fragrant aromas and interesting sights as you stroll by.
Kuomintang and HSBC Building
Kuomintang Building - 296 E Pender St
1920 - This Scottish colonial style edifice was commissioned by the Chinese Nationalist Party as its Western Canadian headquarters. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen visited here while raising funds in Vancouver. The building has rounded arches and an enclosed balcony.
Architect: W.E Sprott
HSBC Building - 600 Main St
1996 - This building was designed to reflect the connection between eastern and western culture. It covers a large foot print but has many linear columns which create a façade that suggests small narrow store fronts. It has the typical recessed balconies seen throughout Chinatown. The lion statues guarding the front door were designed in the British imperial style.
Architect: W.T. Leung
Keefer and Columbia Street
Memorial - Keefer and Columbia Street
The Keefer Street Place Marker commemorates the Chinese Canadians who fought in WWI, as well as those who contributed to the creation of the railway. These efforts led to a turning point for race relations in Canada. The monument by Arthur Cheng is made of bronze and concrete. The memorial started as a public art project and was completed by the Chinese Merchants Association, Chinese Benevolent Association and the Chinese Cultural Centre.
Chinatown Plaza - 180 Keefer St
Completed in 1995 after 20 years of advocacy by the Chinatown Merchants Association, it was designed by Joe Wai to adhere to new Chinatown design guidelines. It includes a roof line which looks similar to the profile of a Chinese town gate. The Parkade has 938 stalls on seven levels while the east side plaza has a shopping concourse at ground level and some offices on the second level. The third level houses a 1,000-seat Chinese restaurant.
Chinese Cultural Centre Museum - 555 Columbia St
1998 - This building is inspired by Ming-Dynasty architecture and houses the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives.
Architect: Joe Wai
Dr Sun Yat-Sen Garden
Sun Yat-Sen Garden - 578 Carrall St
1985-86 The east entrance is shown here with one of the garden’s creators, Joe Wai. This authentic MingDynasty style garden creates harmony among plants, rocks, water and architecture, as well as balance between light and dark, solid and empty, hard and soft, straight and undulating, yin and yang.
Architect - Joe Wai and Don Vaughan
The Sun Yat-Sen garden is the first full-size classical Chinese garden outside of China. It was built by artisans from China employing traditional techniques and materials. The bridges in the garden are not straight and facilitate an ever-changing perspective of the garden as one moves through it. The water has clay in it to produce beautiful reflections. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is an important global figure, and is known as the Father of modern China.
To quote Joe Wai, “The classical Chinese garden is a profound expression of Chinese culture, based on the Daoist reverence of nature and humankind’s place in it. Its principles are founded on an ever changing universe which fluctuates between opposites, such as hard and soft, light and dark. To achieve harmony, such contrasts are included in the journey of life…and gardens.”