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.