Chinatown · History · In The Background · Vancouver

In the Background, Under the Arch

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 12.18.00 AM

In 1912, Vancouver welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Connaught with a series of ceremonial arches across streets on the processional route the couple would take on their tour of the city.

Chinatown welcomed the visitors with this arch over Pender Street at Carrall. What’s of interest is not the arch itself but what can be seen behind it. The photograph was taken just after Pender Street was widened through to Beatty Street During the road works the City purchased and demolished a couple of buildings on the south side of Pender.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 12.18.24 AMYip Sang’s new apartment building at the head of Canton Alley is just about finished and in the foreground you can see the substantial timber work used to shore up a building across the alley. The empty space was once the Sam Kee Company’s store and office which was removed for the road widening project. After the road works were complete the resulting parcel was only 6 feet 2 inches wide by 95 feet long.

Instead of ignoring the sliver of land, the Sam Kee Company’s owner Chang Toy decided to build. The result, designed by the firm of Bryan and Gillam, ended up becoming the narrowest commercial building in the world – according to Guinness and Ripley’s.

If the original plans had been executed it would have been quite the marvel as it was planned to be a four storey structure. As it is, the current building is still intriguing. It is a freestanding steel-framed structure with basement and originally, a barber shop and bathhouse could be found under the street.

Chang Toy was an astute businessman and contrary to popular legend, he negotiated a very handsome price for the property given up for the road.

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