Friday, May 30, 2014

Chang's Mark

Chang Toy and the Sam Kee Company left their mark on this city. Four of the buildings Chang had built still exist today.

The first one is on Pender Street and was completed early in the 1900s. The exact details of when are not known but there is a photo of the building from 1906. In about 1907, the building was bought by Chee Kung Tong, an organization for Chinese workers, which was established in Vancouver in 1892. The organization renamed itself the Chinese Freemasons in 1920. I have written on the Chinese Freemasons' building but I thought it was a different building. Or at least that's the information I had at the time.

The second building still standing is one on West Pender and Richards. Sam Kee acquired two twenty-five foot lots in 1904 and the apartment building, Empress Rooms, was built. Today it is the home of Macleod Books.

Another apartment building Sam Kee built is now an office building at 145-149 Keefer Street.

I don't have photos of either of those buildings.

That brings us to perhaps the most famous of the Sam Kee buildings. This one is on West Pender and is listed in Ripley's Believe It or Not as being the narrowest building in the world. It is only 6 feet wide. I wrote on this unique structure in an earlier entry.

Chang Toy came to Canada from China and had basically nothing. He worked hard and was smart and became, probably, the wealthiest man in Chinatown.

I want to thank the Building Vancouver blog for the information on Chang Toy and the Vancouver Public Library archives for the old photos.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Toy Takes Over

In 1904, the Sam Kee Company had a building at 433 Carrall Street - probably the 1903 commission by W T Whiteway. Soon after it appears that a third story was added. Development in this area in the early 1900s was extra ordinary as can seen by the history of this building. By 1911, it had been sold and the new offices and BC Electric Depot were being built there.

The company held 10 lots in Chinatown but also had land in Gastown, at the corner of Pender and Richards Streets as well as Burrard and Hastings Streets. They built residential hotels or apartments on those lots then turned them over to white hotel operators or non-Chinese management. Chang Toy owned five hotels and built two others on leased land. The company had greater land holdings outside Chinatown than they did within that community.
In 1910, the Sam Kee Company moved to 111 East Pender. This building was built in 1903 by Victoria merchant Chu Lai and designed by W T Whiteway. This building was later the home of the Green  Door Restaurant. By 1920, the company was located at 147 Keefer Street. This building has an interesting pedigree. The building permit was issued to Kennerley Bryan for Sam Kee in 1911 but the plans were attributed to Fred Townley for the Wing Kee Rice Mills (probably a Sam Kee company) existing from 1912. Maybe the final version was a revised version of Bryan's version?

The Sam Kee Company employed W F Gardiner in 1910. Gardiner was to design a $55,000 addition to an existing building on Powell Street. That would have been the City Hotel, on Powell Street, at the other end of the block as the Europe Hotel.  In 1911, the Oriental Hotel on Water Street was ordered demolished by City Health inspectors, despite Chang Toy's protest. That same year, Chang Toy built another hotel on Main Street. This one was designed by Perry and Nicholais. 
The Oriental Hotel, 1889. City of Vancouver Archives.
Looking south. From left to right - Methodist Chinese Mission, 445 Carrall St., Sam Kee & Co., 433 Carroll St.. Sun Sun Fine Tailoring, 429 Carrall St. Express horse - wagon.  Vancouver Public Library.
The Gim Lee Yuen store at 32 Dupont Street and other businesses including the Sam Kee building in the background at 433 Carrall Street. Dupont Street became Pender. City of Vancouver archives.

Chang Toy's private life was as productive as his professional one. In accordance with the Chinese custom of the time, he had five wives and several children by at least two of them. He never really learned to speak English and dressed in traditional Chinese death until his death in 1920.

Toy was willing to take risks, like many other Chinese businessmen of the time. Starting in 1893, he held a 25% stake in a gambling syndicate called Hop Lee Word Flowers, a word guessing lottery. The Sam Kee Company also imported opium if they had a customer who needed it. (Opium was legal in BC until 1908.) He operated the Sing Ping Theatre on Columbia Street - though the address was Keefer - which he had designed by architect W H Chow. Chang also invested in the troop that played there between 1915 and 1918. It doesn't appear that this was a money-making proposition though.

Thanks goes to the Building Vancouver blog for the information above. Friday, I will show you the mark Chang Toy left on the city.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Chang Toy

Today I am going to tell you about one of the men responsible for the building of Vancouver- Chang Toy.

Born in Guangdong province in southern China in 1857, Chang Toy's father died when Toy was three. This didn't stop Chang Toy from going to school though. He was married as a child - so that his mother could have a servant.

In 1874, Chang came to Canada. Initially, he lived in Victoria before moving to New Westminster where he worked at a sawmill. In 1876, Toy moved to Granville and bought a share in a laundry. He then added a small grocery business and started labour contracting other Hakka speaking Chinese workers.

As the years passed, Chang Toy got involved in more businesses such as charcoal burning, an import and export business, steamship ticket sales and real estate. Originally, the goods were shipped from a more established Victoria merchant, the Wing Chong Company to Chang's business, the Sam Kee Company. Funny thing is that Sam Kee appears to be a totally made up name.

Chang Toy. Photo courtesy of the City of Vancouver archives.
After the Great Fire of 1886, Chang Toy moved to Steveston. But by 1888, he was back in the newly named Vancouver. Retail sales rose steadily and the company also acted as a wholesaler - bringing in goods from Hong Kong then shipping them to other parts of B.C. 

In the early 1900s, Sam Kee's store was on the south side of Pender backing onto a much larger False Creek. Sam Kee was also a clearing house for Chinese sending money back to China. By 1908, trade in things such as rice had grown hugely. Chinese sourced rice was shipped mainly to major Vancouver wholesalers like Kelly-Douglas and W H Malkin. On the export side, Hong Kong and later Shanghai had a market for salted fish.

As that trade expanded, Sam Kee made complex relationships with Japanese fishing concerns. When the sources of fish declined, the company made connections in Nanaimo. Sam Kee added a wharf, fish tanks and a saltery. Then Chang Toy's company turned around and leased the area to Japanese companies who supplied the fish Sam Kee exported. 

The different traders in Chinatown were rivals but they worked together when needed. In 1893, Alexander Cumyow and Chang Toy pooled their resources to buy property, which they then leased to Wing Sang and other merchants before selling two years later.

I want to thank the website Building Vancouver for the information on Chang Toy. I will tell you more about him on Wednesday.

I hope you find the beauty around you.