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Lee Block

565 Fisgard Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1995/01/19

Lee Block; City of Victoria, 2008
Oblique view, 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 Lee Block is a prominent building located at the corner of Fisgard and Government Streets in the heart of Victoria's Chinatown. The building displays the influence of the Classical Revival style, prevalent during the Edwardian era for commercial buildings. Divided into symmetrical structural bays, with regular fenestration, the Lee Block contains storefronts on the main floor and tenements and space for volunteer associations on the second and third storeys.

Heritage Value

The Lee Block is valued as part of a grouping of early buildings that contribute to the historic character and urban pattern of Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest and most 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 growth of Victoria as a significant port town, and prompted the movement of many Chinese into the province. Victoria was the primary point of entry for Chinese into Canada until the early twentieth century.
The buildings are also representative of the dominant role Chinese merchants played in Victoria's Chinatown. Chinese merchants, already established in San Francisco, moved to Victoria and purchased lots as early as 1858, opening stores backed by funding from San Francisco headquarters. The Lee Block was a product of the second wave of merchants who immigrated to Victoria's Chinatown in the 1890s to 1910s. Lot 442 was purchased by Lee Woy, Lee Yan and Lee Cheong, who owned Lee Woy & Company, in 1910, and the building was constructed as 'stores and rooms' the same year. The Lees also owned the Lee Woy & Company Building, 557-571 Fisgard Street. In 1954, the Lee Block was sold to the Dart Coon Club.

The Lee Block is also expressive of a degree of duality in its architecture. With its main frontage on Government Street, the Lee Block presents an almost totally Western appearance. Designed in a symmetrical fashion and divided into distinct bays, it displays the tripartite articulation that reflects the influence of the Chicago School. The exterior evidence of its Chinese ownership and use is limited to the multiple doorways to the upper floor, that indicate the presence of tenements and meeting rooms for volunteer association on the upper floors. Western architects were hired to design buildings throughout Chinatown, as the Chinese were shunned as professionals in the building trades. Charles Elwood Watkins (1875-1942), a prolific Victoria architect, designed the Lee Block. In addition to his many commercial, institutional and residential projects, Watkins had a number of clients in the Chinese community.

Source: City of Victoria Planning Department

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the Lee Block include its:
- location on Government 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, residential tenement and institutional use
- siting on the front and side property lines, with no setbacks
- commercial form, scale and massing as expressed by its three-storey height, with 'cheater' mezzanine, bevelled corner with storefront entry; rectangular plan, flat roof, series of doorways leading to the upper floors, and storefronts facing Government Street
- construction materials, including pressed tan-brick cladding with red mortar on the two main facades, common red-brick side and rear walls, and cast-iron storefront columns
- influence of the Chicago School including: tripartite façade articulation; symmetrical structural bays separated by brick pilasters; pressed metal cornices with metal modillions and corbels; and side entry on Fisgard Street with a sheet metal pediment
- multiple doorways leading to the upper storey tenements and meeting rooms
- sidewall chimneys indicating upper floor occupation
- original windows including one-over-one double-hung wooden-sash windows facing Fisgard Street, storefront transoms facing Government Street and multi-paned wooden-sash windows above the side and corner entries
- interior elements, such as the 'cheater' mezzanine



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


Social, Benevolent or Fraternal Club


Commerce / Commercial Services
Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Multiple Dwelling

Architect / Designer

Charles Elwood Watkins



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Victoria Planning Department

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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