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Wing Sang Building

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

Formally Recognized: 2003/01/14

Exterior view of the Wing Sang Building; City of Vancouver
Front facade
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Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/07/30

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Wing Sang building, at 51 East Pender Street in Vancouver's historic Chinatown, comprises two structures: a three storey brick building on East Pender Street incorporating stores at ground level with residential accommodation above, and a six storey warehouse and tenement facing the rear lane.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of the Wing Sang Building lies in it reflecting a number of central aspects of Chinatown's history and development. It is significant for expressing the socio-economic power of a leading Chinatown merchant; for accommodating a well-to-do family and its large household; for the inclusion of educational, religious, and social uses side by side with commercial and residential uses, illustrating the value the community placed on the retention of connections with China; and for the contributions of the Yip family to the local community through the generations.

The brick building consists of three distinct components constructed between 1889 and 1912. The two-storey 1889 portion with an above-grade basement (which is not visible today as the street level was raised over years), clearly distinguishable within the larger facade, is reportedly the oldest extant building in Chinatown. The remaining door opening on the front part of the second floor of the 1889 portion, through which goods were hauled up and taken into the second floor, indicates mixed uses (storage at the front and residence at the back) within the same floor at that time. A large addition in 1901 extended the building to the east and produced a third storey; it was designed by T.E. Julian, the architect of Holy Rosary Cathedral. Some alterations of the 1901 portion occurred in 1902, including the replacement of the brick semi-circular pediment originally located on the front facade with a metal cornice across the entire building, and the removal of a flag pole originally located on the rooftop right behind the semi-circular pediment. A six-storey residence and warehouse was built in 1912 at the rear of the property. This reflects a period of rapid growth in Chinatown and in Vancouver generally. The combination of so many uses within a single building is characteristic of Chinatown.

The rapid expansion reflects the business success of its owner, Yip Sang. Like many other Chinese who came to Canada from Guangdong in the 1880s, Yip was employed in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. What distinguished him from many other Chinese was his position of power, serving as a paymaster and labour agent, which made him an intermediary between Chinese workers and white employers. After establishing himself, his family, and his import-export business 'Wing Sang and Company' in Vancouver, Yip continued to act as a power broker, helping to establish the Chinese Benevolent Association, investing in real estate (he participated in the development of Canton Alley in 1904), and taking an active interest in Chinese politics. His significance is embedded within the community, both through his associations and in the built environment he helped to shape. Yip's reported interactions with Minister of Labour (and future Prime Minister) W.L. Mackenzie King in 1907-08, in which he claimed compensation for damage caused during the anti-Oriental riots of 1907, may have contributed to the federal government's decision to criminalize opium with the passage of the Narcotics Act (1908). Yip's significance, the increasing status of Chinese in the larger Vancouver community, is seen in the Vancouver Museum's acquisition of artifacts from his business, including an extensive collection of costumes.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Wing Sang Building include:
- Location on the north side of Pender Street, Chinatown's 'main street'
- Wide street frontage juxtaposed with narrow neighbouring properties
- The difference in the architectural treatment of the first and second phases of construction facing Pender Street, yet the overall harmony of the whole achieved by unifying elements including the sheet-metal cornice
- The articulation of the elevation achieved by the arrangement of windows and moulded string courses
- The contrasting colour and texture seen in the brick wall, and the woodwork and mouldings of the principal facade
- The contrasting window types, with decorated and plain segmental-headed windows and bay windows
- The volume, massing and articulation of the warehouse/tenement at the rear



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

City of Vancouver

Recognition Statute

Vancouver Charter, s.593

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1901/01/01 to 1901/01/01
1912/01/01 to 1912/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce

Function - Category and Type


Commerce / Commercial Services
Shop or Wholesale Establishment


Multiple Dwelling
Commerce / Commercial Services
Commerce / Commercial Services
Office or Office Building

Architect / Designer

T.E. Julian



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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