Description of Historic Place
The Tye Chong Building is a two-storey, Italianate commercial building located midblock on the south side of Pandora Avenue in Victoria’s historic Old Town, and across the street from Chinatown. The building’s narrow front façade is accented with round-arched ground floor window openings, elaborate window crowns and a heavy bracketed cornice at the parapet. It is adjacent to Market Square, a rehabilitated complex of late nineteenth century buildings that comprise the western half of a full block, with continuous historic streetfronts along three major streets and a central courtyard.
The Tye Chong Building is valued as a significant contributing resource to a grouping of historic structures that faces the southern edge 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. This block of Pandora Avenue originally faced the Johnson Street Ravine, a swamp that marked the boundary between the European business area to the south and Chinatown to the north, illustrating a physical and cultural divide in the early city. During the early 1880s, the wooden shacks on the north side of the ravine were replaced with brick commercial blocks to house Chinese businesses, prompted by a dramatic increase in the Chinese population after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Constructed in 1887, this building marks the transition from a transient Chinese frontier settlement to a more permanent community.
The Tye Chong Building is further valued as a demonstration of the multi-cultural origins of Victoria, including its association with the emerging Chinese merchant class in Victoria, as well as the Italian community. Originally built by Tye Chong on land owned by Carlo Bossi (circa 1826-1895), the building was utilized by a wholesale grocer for many years. Bossi, originally from Lombardy, Italy, was a well-known merchant and entrepreneur who owned a number of downtown properties. The wedding of Carlo and Petronilla Bossi in 1867 was the first Italian marriage in Victoria. This building was constructed opposite a large Chinese Theatre, and three wooden buildings were removed for its construction. Maurice Humber, of Humber’s Brickworks, undertook the masonry construction and McKillican & Anderson were responsible for the carpentry work. Originally purpose-built as a grocery store, a Chinese restaurant was housed at the second storey. The Chinese merchant-class was important to Victoria, as they set up much-needed smaller shops, such as laundries, grocery stores, medicinal shops and restaurants, in buildings that were developed and owned by Europeans.
The Tye Chong Building is a significant example of the use of the Italianate style for Chinese commercial buildings in the 1880s. Demonstrating an overt assimilation with Western society, Chinese merchants adopted prevailing architectural styles for the front façades of their buildings. The second-floor doorway at the front indicates the original presence of a wooden arcade and balcony that were a common feature at this time.
Additionally, this building has supported Market Square's role in the modern revitalization of Victoria's historic downtown core. In the 1970s, Sam Bawlf and his brother, architect Nick Bawlf, pioneered private sector revitalization in Victoria by creating Market Square, a half-block of contiguous rehabilitated heritage buildings that framed a partly covered central courtyard, housing a vibrant urban environment with boutiques, restaurants, offices, and performance space. This adjacent building has also been rehabilitated for commercial use on the ground floor and residential suites above. In recognition of the material and social values of the historic buildings of Old Town, the City of Victoria has established policies and incentives that encourage their adaptive re-use and improve their economic viability. Rehabilitated buildings such as this play a critical role in revitalizing the downtown economy, in providing new residential accommodation and in environmental sustainability.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Tye Chong Building include its:
- location on Pandora Avenue, part of a grouping of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings at the northern edge of Victoria’s historic Old Town, across the street from Victoria's Chinatown
- continuous commercial use
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its: two-storey height, built to the property lines, with mezzanine and full basement; lane access to Market Square; flat roof; and storefront facing Pandora Avenue
- masonry construction, including brick walls, rubble-stone foundations, and a granite threshold at the entry
- Italianate-style details such as: parapet cornice with sandwich brackets; tall vertical upper-floor window openings with inverted-U window hoods connected by a horizontal band; round-arched window openings at the ground floor; and a central double door with arched transom above
- original windows such as: double-hung two-over-two wooden-sash windows on the upper floor front façades; round-arched ground floor windows with fanlight transoms; central second-floor doors on the front and rear façades; upper-floor side wall windows; and segmental-arched window openings at the rear with double-hung six-over-six wooden-sash windows
- interior features such as tongue-and-groove wooden floor, and wooden trim