Description of Historic Place
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, and the adjoining Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park occupy the southern part of the block bounded by Pender, Carrall, Keefer and Columbia Streets in Vancouver's Chinatown. The Garden is the first authentic Ming Dynasty-style scholar's garden to be constructed outside of China. The Garden was built in the traditional way by craftsmen from China using imported materials. The historic place occupies an area of 12,000 sq. m. Enclosed by tall white walls, it was completed in 1986, and expanded in 2004. The Park is the "strolling" landscape, which complements the Scholar's Garden. The Garden, complemented by the Park, is a rare example of a Chinese cultural landscape in Canada. The historic place is included in both the provincial designation of Chinatown in 1971 (municipally designated in 2003) and in the National Historic Site of Vancouver's Chinatown which was designated in 2011.
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden and Park is valued for its historical, social, cultural and design elements.
The historic place is valued as an example of community-led urban rejuvenation and land reclamation. Following the defeat of a freeway system that would have cut through historic Chinatown, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden and Park was conceived as part of a new Chinese Cultural Centre. The defeat of the freeway system was a defining moment in the history of Vancouver. The Garden and the Park are valued as a landmark effort in the reclaiming of the neighbourhood, involving efforts from within and beyond Vancouver's Chinese community.
The social value lies in its use as valuable open space, an oasis from busy urban life, and also in its function as a bridge between cultures. Opportunities for cross-cultural communication occur through tours, art exhibits, concerts and cultural celebrations, primarily at the Garden.
The cultural value lies in the ability of the Garden and Park to reveal the design traditions and, in the Garden, the building techniques of classical China, in particular of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The classical Chinese gardens in Suzhou, China, which seek to recreate natural landscapes in miniature, are generally acknowledged to be masterpieces of the genre. Classical Chinese gardens are the physical manifestation of the Daoist philosophy and the Confucian way of life. They are constructed in a precise, symbolic and meaningful way. The Garden was constructed using tools and techniques from the Ming Dynasty by master craftsmen from Suzhou with building components, rocks and courtyard materials imported from China.
The name of the historic site honours Dr. Sun Yat-Sen who was the first president and a founding father of modern China. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen played an important role in the movement to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and bring a republic to China. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen visited Vancouver's Chinatown in 1910 and 1911 to raise funds for the revolution.
The design value of the historic place lies in its meticulous adherence to the design principles of classical Chinese gardens, based on Daoist philosophy which emphasizes a balance of opposites to create harmony, longevity and prosperity. The Garden and Park are intended to bring about reflection, contemplation and freedom of mind. A double corridor separates the Scholar's Garden from the "strolling" landscape of the Park, crossing a pond that links the two spaces. The symbiotic relationship and the borrowed views between the Garden and the larger Park are key characteristics of its design. Mandatory elements are: the inclusion and symbolic placement of rocks, water, plants and architectural structures, all within clearly defined walls. The materials used in both the structures and landscapes are left to develop a patina through natural aging.
Rocks: the craggy water-worn, limestone rocks from Lake Tai (Garden) and Mexico (Park) are positioned to evoke mountains and create yang elements.
Water: the jade-coloured, cloudy water in the pond suggests great depths, yin coolness and reflections.
Plants: the size, shape, symbolic meaning and placement of plants is key, locally sourced with historical accuracy and recognition of place. Plants are yin. A lone yellow rose bush symbolizes the meeting of East and West.
Architecture: structures in the Garden are built with wooden posts, beams, sills and latticework brought from China and assembled in the traditional manner without nails, screws or glue. Architecture is yang.
Source: City of Vancouver, Planning and Development Services, Urban Design Division
The elements that define the design character of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park include:
- the design of the Garden and Park as one entity
- its design according to traditional Ming Dynasty principles, including all four essential elements (rocks, water, plants, architecture)
- the placement of the limestone rocks to create shapes, such as the 'false mountain' cave in the Garden to evoke a dwelling place for the Immortals
- the reflection created by the jade colour of the water
- plantings with historical, literary, or symbolic association (e.g. the three friends of winter: bamboo, pine and winter-flowering plum)
- the form, character, materials and craftsmanship of the built elements in the Garden: China Maple Hall, the double corridor, the Jade Water Pavilion, the Scholar's Study, the Ting (garden structure)
- placement of objects and the manipulation of the course of qi, (positive energy, a key element in feng-shui such as a free-standing Lake Tai rock in the Garden's main courtyard, carefully positioned to guide the free flowing qi through one of the rock's large holes and direct it into the China Maple Hall, thus ensuring a constant flow of positive energy to the space
- balance of yin and yang, in contrast of forms such as the water-worn limestone rocks and the rectilinear smooth surface of the stone bridge and curvilinear and rectilinear forms of the leak windows
- the framed views of stone and plants in the Garden's 'heavenly wells'
- inclusion of auspicious symbols such as bat designs on the drip tiles
- hidden elements such as the cave in the Garden, and continuous unfolding views are experienced while walking through the Garden and Park
- enclosure by high white walls with a plaster finish, with leak windows enabling views beyond the walls
- the designed 'ever-changing' landscape which balances and harmonizes through the days, seasons and years and demonstrates evidence of the continual process of aging (i.e. creating patina), for example, through the crazing on the white walls, and moss growing between the pebbles in the courtyard