Alert Bay Chinese Businesses and Residences
Chinese Businesses and Residences, Alert Bay
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Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
This Chinese Canadian business and residential community is located in Alert Bay, a settlement on Cormorant Island in Broughton Strait, near Port McNeill off Vancouver Island's northeast coast. The community consists of four commercial and three residential wood-framed buildings, situated in the south-east commercial area of Alert Bay. Owned or built by Chinese families, the buildings are located in the general area between the 'Namgis First Nations cemetery, Alert Bay Shipyards and the Nimpkish Hotel, fronting onto Fir Street and the foreshore.
The area of Chinese Canadian businesses and residences in Alert Bay has historical, aesthetic, cultural and social significance for illustrating the ubiquity and enterprise of Chinese Canadians even in the most remote areas of B.C., and the vital cultural and economic contributions made by the small Chinese Canadian population to the community of Alert Bay.
Clustered along the waterfront on Fir Street, Chinese Canadian businesses and associated residences are important as reminders of the goods and services provided by Chinese Canadians in the flourishing community of Alert Bay from the 1920s to the 1980s, when the fishing, fish canning, logging and mining industries were at their peak in the district. These businesses were vital to the community as well as the whole North Island Central Coast districts, and were centrally located in Alert Bay's main commercial area.
The place is significant for its demonstration of the pattern of Chinese Canadian small-business ownership in small communities, and the subsequent integration of local business owners and their families into the community. This included well-known names such as Dong Chong (Dong Chong Bay on Hanson Island is named after him), Wong Toy, Eddie Wong, Woo Sing, Jim King and others who operated businesses such as grocery, hardware, butcher, tailor and shoe repair shops, cafes, taxi services, laundries, informal banks and other enterprises for many years. Their services extended well beyond Alert Bay to support and supply industries and communities in the region. A number of the local Chinese Canadians were part of the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, while children of Chinese Canadian merchants attended school, joined local youth groups and became an important part of the community.
The still-existing buildings - two residential and four commercial, all previously owned by Chinese Canadians - are a rare remaining presence of the once-thriving Chinese Canadian commercial area after many buildings were demolished through urban renewal in the 1970s. The ongoing occupation by local residents and businesses contributes to the continued use and vitality of the area, while the false front, wood-framed, contiguous buildings immediately abutting Fir Street, dating from the late 1920s to the 1950s, are reminders of the community's early built form.
The characteristic close relationship between Chinese Canadians and First Nations in B.C. is part of the cultural value of Alert Bay. Besides mutual respect and support in the community, Chinese businesses quietly supplied the 'Namgis and other First Nations in the region with supplies for their potlatches, which had been made illegal in 1922. While there was discrimination - at one time Chinese labourers were not permitted to work in the Alert Bay shingle mill, and a part-Chinese-owned logging company could not legally hire Chinese workers - the relatively equal mix of First Nations and Caucasian members of the population, the strong relationship between Chinese Canadians and the 'Namgis First Nation, and the isolation of the place meant that discriminatory laws had less impact here.
Part of the significance of these businesses and residences stems from the energy and spirit of honest endeavour the Chinese Canadian community brought to the area, the reminder of the hardships Chinese Canadians overcame in their efforts to become citizens, and their role in adding another aspect of cultural identity to the village.
Source: Province of British Columbia, Heritage Branch
Province of British Columbia
Heritage Conservation Act, s.18
Provincially Recognized Heritage Site (Recognized)
1920/01/01 to 1980/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
- Peopling the Land
- Migration and Immigration
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Province of British Columbia, Heritage Branch
Cross-Reference to Collection