Description of Historic Place
The Lim Dat Building is a two-storey red-brick building with retail space on the ground floor and offices on the upper floor. It is prominently situated at the corner of Store and Fisgard Streets in an industrial area at the western periphery of Victoria’s Chinatown and across the street from the Inner Harbour. The building is distinctive for its round-arched façade openings with a repetitive series of bays that display an unusually high ratio of glazing versus wall surface.
The Lim Dat Building, built in 1898, is significant as one of the first buildings in the province to explore curtain wall construction at the end of the nineteenth century. At the time, Eastern architects were pioneering the use of iron and steel technology to enable the construction of higher buildings and large expanses of façade glazing. The use of arches, as a structural device that enabled greater spans, was a transitional device in the evolution from the Romanesque Revival style of the late Victorian era to the Chicago School style of the Edwardian era. This innovative structure, designed by prominent British Columbia architect Thomas Hooper (1857-1935), demonstrates a clear understanding of these trends. Over a number of decades, the English-born Hooper demonstrated stylistic versatility that reflected changing tastes and technologies and designed a number of other commercial buildings in Chinatown and Old Town Victoria. The use of the Romanesque arch-and-spandrel motif, here enlarged to a size that dominates the façades, enabled a high ratio of glazing that floods the interior with natural light. Limited by available technology, the interior structure is rendered in heavy timber. Hooper further developed this progressive motif in the Thomas Earle Warehouse, built at 530-534 Yates Street, Victoria, in 1899-1900, in which the entire façade was rendered as a giant arch.
The Lim Dat Building is valued as part of a grouping of early buildings that contribute to the historic character and urban pattern of Victoria's Chinatown, the seminal and oldest intact Chinatown in Canada. In the 1850s, exacerbated by political and social turmoil in China, thousands of Chinese migrated from a small region in the southern province of Guangdong to frontier gold rush sites in California, setting up a permanent base in San Francisco. In 1858, the Fraser Gold Rush spurred the movement of Chinese into Canada and the significant port town of Victoria was the primary point of entry into the country for the Chinese until the early twentieth century.
The building is a reminder of the significant role of Chinese settlers in Victoria's development. Large-scale Chinese merchants, already established in San Francisco, moved to Victoria and purchased lots as early as 1858, opening stores backed by funding from the United States. The Lim Dat Building is the product of a second wave of small clan and family proprietors who immigrated to Victoria in the 1890s to 1910s and introduced smaller businesses in Chinatown, such as laundries, food stores, medicinal shops and restaurants. The original owners of the building, Lim Dat and Wong Soon Lim, purchased this site for $7,000 in 1898. The Lim family were prominent merchants and were one of the largest land developers in Chinatown. Lim Dat was born in China in 1847; his son Lim Bang was born in 1884. Building on his father’s success, Lim Bang later developed several notable buildings in downtown Victoria. The ground floor of this building was utilized for commercial space with upper floor tenements. In 1909, they sold the building to architect Francis Rattenbury for $32,500. Acquired in 1939 by J.R. Waters, the building was renovated for use as British Welders, and has since been converted to office and commercial use.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Lim Dat Building include its:
- location on the east side of Store Street at the corner of Fisgard Street, part of a grouping of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings in Victoria's Chinatown
- continuous commercial use
- siting on the front property line, with no setbacks
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its two-storey height, U-shaped plan, flat roof and retail storefronts facing Store Street
- masonry construction, including red pressed-brick walls and heavy-timber interior structure
- elements of the Romanesque Revival style, such as: a repetitive series of wide round-arched bays interspersed with banks of rectangular windows, with fluted wooden pilasters; a central arched opening to the upper floor; arched storefronts and secondary entrance on Fisgard Street façade; corbelled brick cornice with diagonally-laid courses; rounded corner bricks; wide tooled joints with dark-grey mortar; pilasters with intermediate capitals; carved sandstone base at the corner column
- distinctive windows such as: multiple-assembly, four-over-two double-hung wooden-sash windows shaped to fit arched openings; six-over-three double-hung wooden sash-windows in segmental-arched openings, ground-floor arched windows; and multi-paned double-hung wooden-sash windows on the rear façade