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Lum Sam & Look Den Building

534 Pandora Avenue, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1995/01/19

Lum Sam & Look Den Building; City of Victoria, 2009
Front elevation, 2009
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Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2010/02/09

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Lum Sam & Look Den Building is a two-storey, Late Victorian-era brick commercial structure. It stands on the north side of Pandora Street on the southern edge of Victoria’s Chinatown. It is also located across the street from historic Old Town and Market Square, a rehabilitated complex of late-nineteenth century buildings with continuous streetfronts. The ground floor has a large storefront window and two doors, the one to the east at 534½ providing access to the upper level. The second storey has two windows flanking a door to the full-width balcony. The exterior is richly articulated with stringcourses and corbelled brickwork.

Heritage Value

The Lum Sam & Look Den Building is valued as a significant contributing resource to a grouping of historic structures that marks the southern edge of Victoria's Chinatown. 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, that illustrated 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. These merchants set up much-needed smaller shops such as laundries, grocery stores, medicinal shops and restaurants in buildings that were often developed and owned by European pioneers.

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 are linked to central courtyards, which were the hidden location of tenements, opium dens, theatres and gambling houses. This configuration is a traditional south Chinese urban pattern. The Lum Sam & Look Den Building is consistent with such a duality. Its commercial façade exhibits Italianate elements, such as segmental-arched window openings, stringcourses and a decorative cornice. However, a passageway existed on the west side that provided access to the interior of the block. As the Chinese population continued to grow, the wooden buildings on Fisgard Street were replaced with brick blocks, and the interior network of alleys grew more complicated as tenements and businesses were added behind façades visible from the street.

This site is also significant as part of the forty-two hectare land holdings of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) factor, Roderick Finlayson (1818-1892), who was influential in the development of the future province and the City of Victoria. He first came to Vancouver Island in 1843 to oversee the construction of the new HBC trading post, Fort Victoria. Finlayson was made Chief Factor of HBC in 1859, after James Douglas resigned from that position to be appointed Governor of the new Crown Colony of British Columbia. Finlayson served on the Council of Vancouver Island and as Mayor of Victoria in 1878. He became wealthy from land dealings and in 1872 retired to attend to his real estate and business interests. Numerous geographical features of the province and the city are named for Finlayson.

The Lum Sam & Look Den Building is also a significant example of the vernacular Italianate style that characterized Chinatown at this time. It was the work of local architect John Teague (1835-1902). Born in Cornwall, England, Teague followed the lure of gold, first in California and then in the Fraser Valley. After some time in the gold fields, he settled in Victoria in 1860, where he lived and worked until his death. Teague served the city as councillor in 1885, and as mayor for two terms, 1892 and 1893. During his prolific career Teague designed over 350 buildings, mostly in Victoria. He was adept at all the current architectural styles, ranging from Italianate to Queen Anne Revival. For many years he was the architect for the Royal Navy at the Dockyard and Hospital at Esquimalt; his clients included most of the city’s leading businessmen for whom he built commercial as well as residential buildings. Four of his buildings in Victoria: City Hall, #1 Centennial Square 1878-91; St. Ann’s Academy, 835 Humboldt Street 1886; Church of Our Lord, 626 Blanshard Street, 1875-76; and the Pemberton Memorial Operating Room, 1900 Fort Street, 1896; and five buildings in the Historic Naval District, Esquimalt, 1888-91, are designated as National Historic Sites.

Source: City of Victoria Planning Department

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the Lum Sam & Look Den Building include its:
- mid-block location on Pandora Avenue, part of a grouping of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century historic masonry buildings in Victoria's Chinatown, just north of Victoria’s historic Old Town and Market Square
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its two-storey height built to the property lines, symmetrical rectangular plan, and flat roof
- masonry construction, including brick walls and continuous granite threshold along the street frontage
- Italianate-style details such as: segmental-arched window openings; decorative brick cornice with dentils, round-arched motif and corbelling; and rhythmic stringcourse encompassing the window heads
- additional exterior details, such as the full-width metal balcony with ornamental brackets, and side wall chimneys
- double-hung wooden-sash windows, including six-over-six windows on the front façade and two-over-two windows on the west wall



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
Shop or Wholesale Establishment

Architect / Designer

John Teague



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Victoria Planning Department

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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