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Mah Society Building

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

Formally Recognized: 2003/01/14

Exterior view of the Mah Society Building; City of Vancouver, 2004
Front facade
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Other Name(s)

Mah Society
Mah Society Building

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/07/25

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Mah Society Building at 137 East Pender Street in Vancouver's Chinatown is a substantial five-storey brick building with a store at street level, a three-storey rooming house above, and a tong meeting hall on the top storey.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of the Mah Society Building lies in the way its original construction and subsequent alteration reflect key periods in the establishment of the Chinese-Canadian community in Vancouver.

The construction in 1913 of the original building to the designs of Henry Barton Watson, which housed the Kwong Fong grocery at street level with a rooming house - the Minglee Rooms - above, speaks to the importance of this part of East Pender Street as the Chinese-Canadian retail hub and to the continuing need for rooms for Chinese immigrants. Watson's design was of particular note for being the earliest identified example of the use of Chinese architectural motifs (now sadly lost) in the form a pagoda-roofed cornice, and Chinese temple-shaped finials.

The addition of the top storey in 1921, by architect E.J. Boughen, for meeting rooms for the Mah Gim Do Hung Society (later the Mah Society of North America) is representative of the trend in early twentieth-century Chinatown for building tong meeting rooms atop existing buildings, thereby imbuing them with status through height. The continuing use of the space by the Mah Society consolidates the building's value.

The integration of function of tong meeting space and a rooming house within the building is of value for illustrating the role that surname associations had in welcoming and supporting new immigrants, in this case with the surname Mah, to Vancouver.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Mah Society Building include:
- Mid-block location on Pender Street, in the heart of Vancouver's Chinatown
- Commanding height over adjacent buildings
- Imposing street frontage achieved by the articulation of brick surfaces and window openings.
- Elements signalling pride, for example, the flagstaff, and the tong name signage in both Chinese and Roman characters
- Decorative architectural elements, including sheet metal pilaster capitals, hood mould over arch, transom panels below windows, and string course on dentils over awning box.



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

City of Vancouver

Recognition Statute

Vancouver Charter, s.593

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1921/01/01 to 1921/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Community Organizations

Function - Category and Type


Commerce / Commercial Services
Eating or Drinking Establishment


Social, Benevolent or Fraternal Club
Commerce / Commercial Services
Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Multiple Dwelling

Architect / Designer

E.J. Boughen



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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