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On Hing Building

538-44 Fisgard Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1995/01/19

On Hing Building; City of Victoria, 2008
Front elevation, 2008
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Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2009/12/17

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The On Hing Building is a two-storey brick-clad commercial and residential building, located on the north side of Fisgard Street in the heart of Victoria's Chinatown. The ground floor contains commercial storefronts; the upper floor is residential and features segmental-arched window openings. The eastern storefront retains its 'cheater' mezzanine, and large signs advertise Chinese businesses.

Heritage Value

The On Hing 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. Constructed in 1891, the On Hing 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 eastern and western halves of Lot 456 were purchased from William H. Oliver and James Porter respectively for $15,000. The On Hing Brothers were among Chinatown's most industrious and prominent merchants, and owned numerous properties, including the adjacent lot to the east.

Victoria's Chinatown is expressive of a duality in architecture and cultural landscape. On each block, street façades link together, forming a wall that shields interior spaces and narrow alleyways between and through buildings linked to central courtyards, which were the hidden location of tenements, opium dens, theatres and gambling houses. This configuration allowed the Chinese community to adhere to follow traditional religion, kinship and economic practices, while projecting an image of assimilation to Victoria's Western society. The On Hing Building exhibits this duality. Externally, the building has a brick-clad commercial façade that reflects the Italianate style of the late nineteenth century. It was originally almost identical in appearance to the adjacent Hart’s Block at 532-536 Fisgard Street. Typical of Chinatown, a narrow doorway between two storefronts links to second floor tenements and one retains its 'cheater' mezzanine.

Source: City of Victoria Planning Department

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the On Hing Building include its:
- mid-block location on Fisgard Street, part of a grouping of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings in the heart of Victoria's Chinatown
- siting on the front and side property lines, with no setback
- continuous commercial and residential use
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its two-storey height, symmetrical rectangular plan, flat roof, storefronts facing Fisgard Street, and tenements above
- masonry construction, including red-brick walls, parged sills and window hoods, and granite thresholds
- Italianate elements, such as segmental-arched second-floor windows openings with parged sills and inverted-U window hoods connected by a running band, and corbelled brick courses
- arched opening to an internal passageway linked to rear service space
- retail space located at 544 Fisgard, including wooden storefront with multi-paned transoms, tiled entryway, 'cheater' mezzanine and wooden floors



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (BC)

Recognition Statute

Local Government Act, s.954

Recognition Type

Community Heritage Register

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce

Function - Category and Type


Commerce / Commercial Services
Eating or Drinking Establishment


Commerce / Commercial Services
Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Multiple Dwelling

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Victoria Planning Department

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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