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Chinese School

121 East Pender Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6A, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2003/01/14

Exterior view of the Chinese School; City of Vancouver, 2004
Front facade
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Other Name(s)

Chinese School
Wong Benevolent Association Building

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/07/24

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Chinese School building at 121 East Pender Street is a wide, mid-block, four-storey structure housing tong meeting rooms and a Chinese school over a row of stores on East Pender Street, the 'main street' of Vancouver's Chinatown.

Heritage Value

Constructed in 1910, the Chinese School building has value for illustrating renovations and additions made to an existing structure during Chinatown's boom years of the early 1920s, which added space to accommodate a tong and to make the building conform to the newly dominant 'Chinatown' style of architecture, and thereby express its 'Chinese-ness'. The renovations, some of which were designed by the Chinese-Canadian architect W. H. Chow, also demonstrate the need to intensify development during these years of growth in the Chinatown neighbourhood.

The alterations by architect J.A Radford of 1921 are an important part of the building's heritage value. These alterations are significant for illustrating the Chinatown phenomenon of the early 1920s of building impressive tong meeting rooms atop existing buildings, in this case for the Wong Kung Har Tong. The decorative detail of the altered building and the location of the meeting space high above the street reflect the status of the Wong clan in China and in the Chinese-Canadian community, here as both service providers and property owners. The contemporaneous alteration to incorporate recessed balconies, a key feature of the Chinatown architectural style, demonstrates the continuing importance of the feature in asserting the Chinese-Canadian cultural identity.

Organizational life flourished in Chinatown during the early 1920s; the number of active tongs expanded and they assumed an important role as property owners along East Pender Street. The reasons for this expansion include the overall increase in Chinatown's population, fueled by immigration from China and migration from other centres in British Columbia, a growing interest in Chinese politics within the immigrant community, and increased discrimination from the white community. The establishment of other community associations within the building, such as the Chinese Community Club and the Hai Fung Association, reflect the evolution of the role of community associations more generally. The Hai Fung Association is particularly important as an example of a long-lived post-war youth organization established independent of the older place and surname associations. Hai Fung attracted new immigrants who brought with them new ideas about the meaning of being Chinese in Canada, challenging the established tongs.

The use of the building by the Mon Keang School is also an important part of its heritage value. Established on the third floor in 1925, the school illustrates the value placed on the teaching of the Chinese language and customs to the tusheng, or children of overseas Chinese born in Canada. This was important both because of the value placed on education in perpetuating Chinese culture, and because it gave Canadian-born children the skills required to function successfully in a predominantly Chinese-speaking environment. The cultural education of children, especially through language, and the related issue of intergenerational relationships and authority, are important themes in the history of the oveseas Chinese and of immigrant communities more generally.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Chinese School include:
- Mid-block location on East Pender Street in Vancouver's Chinatown.
- Decorative elements on the facade, including the brick parapet with features such as the clan name, the date of completion, and urns on podia, and the decorative sheet-metal work, including the cornice and the columns with stylized capitals and bases
- Recessed balconies
- Modular wood-framed fenestration
- 'Cheater storey' with asymmetrically arranged carved mullions/pilasters
- Off-centre staircase accessed from street level, surmounted by a large stained-glass window
- Three seperate storefronts
- Use for community assembly space and community organization offices



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

City of Vancouver

Recognition Statute

Vancouver Charter, s.593

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1925/01/01 to 1925/01/01
1921/01/01 to 1921/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Education and Social Well-Being

Function - Category and Type



Social, Benevolent or Fraternal Club
Special or Training School
Commerce / Commercial Services
Shop or Wholesale Establishment

Architect / Designer

J.A. Radford



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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