Continuing our Chinatown Historic Tour put on by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, we headed back east along Pender Street. We walked under the Millennium Gate that marks the entry into Chinatown from Downtown. Almost every Chinatown in North America has a similar gate. We just didn’t get ours until the turn of the millennium.
We walked past our starting point at Pender and Carrall towards the Chinese Cultural Centre mid-block. There stands the China Gate. Maurice had pictures of the old China Gate, which was a traditional red column Chinese gate. The new one is concrete and in a very different style. Across the Chinese Cultural Centre is the home of Rennie Marketing systems in the old Wing Sang Co. building. Bob Rennie has definitely made a fortune for himself as the “Condo King” of Vancouver and has helped to open up a satellite of the Royal BC Museum at the Wing Sang. The gallery should definitely be worth checking out one day.
Nestled behind the Chinese Cultural Centre is the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Garden. In Chinese pinyin, the good doctor’s name is Sun Zhongshan. So how Yat-sen ever came about, I have no idea. Dr. Sun Yat-sen visited Vancouver a few times in the early 20th Century. He was drumming up financial support for the revolution that eventually overthrew the Qing Dynasty and gave birth to modern China. There are two sections to the garden, the free public side and the paid side. Obviously, we went through the public side.
After briefly walking through this classical Chinese garden, Maurice surprised us with a visit to the Chinese Cultural Centre’s museum. I don’t know if it’s free all the time, but it was for us. So we had 10 minutes to quickly peruse the exhibits upstairs. The exhibits included children’s art about technology and a display about different men and women who helped to shape the Chinese community in Vancouver.
After the museum, we went across the street to the little plaza with a giant memorial. The pillar in the middle is shaped like the Chinese character for “middle” which also represents “China” and the “Chinese.” Flanking the pillar are statues that remember the Chinese-Canadian soldiers that fought in the World Wars and the many Chinese railway workers that helped complete Canada’s continental railway dream.
We walked back up to Pender Street and looked at all the buildings with their benevolence and kinship societies. The most remarkable feature of these buildings tend to be the giant balconies on the upper floors. As we were standing and looking at something, you could hear the clacking of mah jong tiles ringing overhead. Also suddenly, a man from one of the upper floors called down to the street below and told him to hurry up. Maybe they needed a fourth person to get another table of mah jong going.
We eventually walked up Pender past Main Street. Maurice stopped us at the alleyway just behind Main Street and pointed out an old rooming hotel. He pointed out the entrance in the alley and the balcony above. This was an old rooming house which is probably now a single residency hotel. Rooming houses like these were common in days when young men would ride the ships from China in search of work. So where else would you stay, but in a rooming house.
Then finally, we ended our tour at the corner of Gore Avenue and Pender Streets. On the corner is a four storey yellow building. This is the Kuomintang Building. The Kuomintang, or the Chinese Nationalist Party, is the party that Dr. Sun Yat-sen founded. After World War II, a civil war ensued in China. The Communists chased the Nationalists to Taiwan. So that’s why you find the Taiwanese flag flying high above the Kuomintang building. Maurice said he had snuck into this building at one time to see how it was on the inside. He says the inside is nothing like the outside. The stairway wreaked of urine and the walls had seen better days.
That was a sad note for heritage to end the tour on, but it was enjoyable as always. Thank you again to Maurice Guibord and to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation for these walking tours. There’s still more tours in the summer season, so check them out at the Vancouver Heritage Foundation website.