Chinatown · History · Vancouver

Last House Standing…

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 4.13.33 PMIn Chinatown sitting next to the Chan Society building and hidden behind the red painted stucco of the Soo Yuen Society is the last house on the 100 block of Pender Street. Passing by on the street there’s nothing to draw your attention to the building, but if you happen to look up you can see the outline of the roof gable just visible in the stucco of the parapet. This unremarkable structure is the oldest standing building in Chinatown.

Dakin’s 1889 Fire Insurance map shows the Chinese Church (abbreviated on the map as ‘Chin Church’) occupying two lots on Pender. The Chinese Methodist Mission had been established a year before the map was published under the auspices of Reverend Chan Sing-Kai [Chen Shengkai] who would become the first Chinese ordained by the Methodist Church in Canada in 1891. The Mission would remain here until late 1899 when it sold up and moved to a new and larger facility on the north west corner of Carrall and Pender designed by the firm of Parr and Fee.

After the Methodists moved on, their former premises took on a new role as a brothel in the emerging red light district on Pender between Columbia and Main Street. Louise Feretti took up residence and joined already established madams Maud Porter, Grace Hart and Jessie Sharf on the south side of the block.

As early as 1894 the street was known for its madams including Maud Gray and across the street at 131 Pender, the popular Dora Reno. As part of her expanding real estate portfolio, Dora purchased one of the two original lots from the Methodists and built a handsome house there, one of four she would own and lease to other madams on the street. As a result of the construction the former Mission lost its long side porch.

Louise was only there for a year and so Grace Hart moved over from next door to take up residence for the next three years. The 24 year old was born in the States, as were almost all the women residing on Pender at this time. The 1901 census lists Kory McLellan (18), Ida Tracey (19) and Eva Hartson (26) as the other ‘lodgers’ in the house.

In 1904, Ollie (Alice) Taylor who had been resident on Pender for a few years takes over the address and is there until the street and its brothels are officially closed in 1906, though the madams quickly re-established themselves in a new district two streets to the south on Shore Street (the rump end of today’s East Georgia) just west of Main.

With its brothel days behind it the house was adapted to accommodate business on the ground floor with the upper floor becoming a rooming house for Chinese men. The Vancouver police department seemed to take an interest in the address with the papers reporting very frequent gambling raids throughout the 1920s and 30s.

In the 1950s the property is purchased by the Soo Yuen Society, a Clan Association consisting of the Louie[/Lei/Lui], Fong[/Fang] and Kwong[/Kuang] families.


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