Chinatown Walking Tour – Pender and Carral to Shanghai Alley

Back in June, I went on another walking tour put on by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation and lead by none other than Maurice Guibord.  These tours are always so much fun.

We met up at the corner of Pender and Carrall.  We started looking at the building on the northwest corner of the intersection. Maurice pointed out that the building had two different facades.  One facade was more Western and it faced onto Carrall Street which was dominated by more Westerners in the past.  The other facade was a Chinese style with it’s large open balconies similar to other buildings along Pender Street.  I definitely would not have noticed that on my own.

No visit to Chinatown in Vancouver is complete without seeing the world’s narrowest building. There’s Maurice above doing his best to stretch across the entire width of the building.  The story is that the city took back part of the land to make Pender Street wider. The original owner, Sam Kee, decided to still keep the land and built this narrow strip of a building to spite the city.  The building’s basement actually extends under the sidewalk.  Remnants of the glass tiles can still be seen on the sidewalk.  Maurice took the opportunity again to share his story about how prostitutes in Seattle would stand on similar sidewalks to the Emerald City.  They would dress with no underwear and have their prices marked on the soles of their shoes to prospective clients peering from below.

We walked down Shanghai Alley towards the bell given to the City of Vancouver by the City of Guangzhou.  Guangzhou was formerly called Canton in English.  So now the bell sits at the bend within Shanghai Alley.  Canton Alley is not far from this spot.  The buildings around Canton Alley were one of the few that survived the Asiatic Exclusion League riots in 1907 because it had a gate that prevented rioters from getting too far.  The buildings did not survive re-development many years later, but it is now home to SUCCESS’s Chinatown offices.

Near the corner of Taylor and Pender Streets, you can find a brand new sight.  If you look up on top of one of the nearby buildings, you will find what looks like the front of a First Nations longhouse.  This is the Skwachays Healing Lodge that recently opened up to serve aboriginals who must travel to Vancouver for medical stays.   It’s very exciting to see something new and progressive pop up in this part of town.

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