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Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The On Hing Brothers Building is a brick-clad, two-storey plus 'cheater' mezzanine, commercial and residential building located on the west side of Government Street in Victoria's Chinatown. The building features two original wooden storefronts with multi-paned transoms; the upper floor is residential use.
The On Hing Brothers 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 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. Constructed in 1897, the On Hing Brothers Building was the product of a second wave of small clan and family proprietors who immigrated to Victoria's Chinatown in the 1890s to 1910s. These merchants set up north of Pandora Avenue, bringing much-needed smaller shops such as laundries, grocery stores, medicinal shops and restaurants into the area.
The original owners of the building, Chan Tong Yue and Chan Tong Ork of the On Hing & Brothers Company, purchased Lot 459 from William J. Macdonald for $10,000. The On Hing Brothers were prominent merchants and owned considerable property in Chinatown. This building has a form that is typical in Victoria's Chinatown, with retail storefronts on the ground floor and upper floor tenements, accessible by two half-width doors facing the street. It has remained in Chinese ownership since it was built.
Victoria's Chinatown is also expressive of a duality in architecture which is present in the On Hing Brothers Building. Facing Government Street, the commercial façade displays elements typical of the Late Victorian era, while doorways to upper floor tenements, and the mezzanine that originally functioned as a 'cheater' floor, indicate Chinese use and ownership.
The building is further valued as an example of the work of Thomas Hooper (1857-1935), one of the most important early architects in British Columbia. Hooper designed numerous buildings in Vancouver, Victoria and other locations around the province, including many projects in Victoria's Chinatown.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the On Hing Brothers Building include its:
- location on Government Street, between Fisgard and Herald Streets, part of a grouping of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings in Victoria's Chinatown
- continuous commercial and residential use
- siting on the front and side property lines, with no setbacks
- commercial form, scale and massing as expressed by its two-storey height with 'cheater' mezzanine, rectangular plan, flat roof, and two storefronts facing Government Street
- masonry construction, including red-brick walls with tooled mortar joints
- Late Victorian-era features such as segmental-arched window openings on the upper floor, a sheet metal cornice with modillions, brackets with a sunburst motif, sheet metal storefront cornice, and scroll-cut brackets on the storefront pillars
- Chinese features such as two half-width wooden doors leading to upper storey tenements, and sidewall chimneys that indicate second floor occupation
- fenestration such as upper storey one-over-one double-hung wooden-sash windows with horns, and wooden storefronts with panelled doors and multi-paned transoms
- interior features such as 'cheater' mezzanine and wooden floors
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.954
Community Heritage Register
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Shop or Wholesale Establishment
- Multiple Dwelling
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Victoria Planning Department
Cross-Reference to Collection