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Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The area formerly occupied by Nelson's Chinatown is centred on the two blocks of Lake Street in downtown Nelson, British Columbia. The area is bordered by Vernon, Front, Ward and Hall Streets. Today, the area consists primarily of later commercial buildings, with several still-existing late Victorian and vernacular buildings - including the Sing Chong Laundry - dating from around 1900. The Sing Chong Laundry is a small unadorned rectangular flat-roofed building located at 308A Hall Street between Vernon and Lake streets in the heart of Nelson's former Chinatown. It is currently the home of Kootenay Co-op Radio.
Nelson's Chinatown and the Sing Chong Laundry have historical, cultural and social significance for their representation of the multiple layers of Chinese Canadian heritage in the city of Nelson, which today retains traces of its once-vibrant Chinese Canadian community.
Originating in the 1890s at the height of the mining industry in the Kootenays, Nelson's Chinatown is important as an enduring symbol of a once-complex, vital centre of the city and a social, cultural and economic focus for Chinese Canadians in the region. The place was home to those whose labour supported regional industries such as gold and silver mining, lumbering, farming and railway and road construction.
Nelson's Chinatown is important for sustaining a number of diverse business enterprises. Some of these served the Chinese community, including restaurants, hotels and stores. Others, such as laundries and food stores, were key in supporting affluent residents; still others, such as cooks and gardeners, were the source of labour for service industries.
Also significant is the Chinese Canadians' singular contribution to the cultivation of extensive market gardens that were located adjacent to Nelson's Chinatown. These gardens were important for the economic support they provided to Chinatown and its residents, and for being the only supply of fresh produce for Nelson and the region. They were also a way for Nelson's Chinese Canadians to achieve a level of independence.
The location of Chinatown, including the laundry building, is significant as a reminder of the broader processes of discrimination and segregation in Nelson and British Columbia, illustrated by Nelson's need to be seen as respectable as it grew into a regional centre for government, transport and industry. This resulted in the forced removal of the Chinese community from their homes and businesses on Vernon Street lots, which were leased from the Canadian Pacific Railway, to Lower Hill and the less-desirable Lake Street area. This discrimination was expressed in many other ways, such as the exclusionary practices of the Miners' Union and the many editorials in local newspapers such as the Nelson Weekly Miner which advocated in the harshest terms the absolute removal of Chinese Canadians from Nelson, the province and the country.
Constructed in 1901, the Sing Chong Laundry is valued for being the last surviving Chinese Canadian built and owned building in Nelson's original Chinatown. It is representative of one of the vital business enterprises undertaken by Chinese Canadians, filling a niche at a time when Chinese Canadians were excluded from a number of other jobs and professions.
Nelson's Chinatown and the Sing Chong Laundry are valued as reminders of the vibrant Chinese Canadian culture that existed in Nelson at one time and which has been captured in local literary writing such as Fred Wah's 'Diamond Grill,' making them exemplars of Chinese Canadian caf¿and businesses in small towns across the province.
The two sites are important because they symbolize the erasure and neglect of Chinese Canadian history in Nelson and other B.C. communities. It is notable that recent cultural projects in Nelson are leading the commemoration of the significant Chinese Canadian contribution to the city and region. These projects include a monument near the original Chinatown, art exhibits, Chinatown Week, radio documentaries and inclusion of Chinese cultural influences on urban design in the Chinatown area.
Source: Province of British Columbia, Heritage Branch
Province of British Columbia
Heritage Conservation Act, s.18
Provincially Recognized Heritage Site (Recognized)
1890/01/01 to 1890/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
- Peopling the Land
- Migration and Immigration
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Office or Office Building
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Province of British Columbia, Heritage Branch
Cross-Reference to Collection