Ever wanted to know more about that strangely shaped building in Chinatown? This week, Abrielle has you covered!
One of the most iconic buildings in Vancouver’s Chinatown is the Jack Chow Building (previously known as the Sam Kee Building) located at 8 West Pender Street. The building is recognized for being the thinnest building in the world as featured in The Guinness Book of World Records and Believe It Or Not. The Jack Chow Building is not only a popular attraction, it is a part of the rich historical legacy of the first Chinese immigrants who settled in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
In the late 1800s Vancouver was a main point of entry for many Chinese immigrants who sought out jobs in the lumber industries and on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Chinese immigrants also found jobs as mining labourers, farmers, cannery workers, cooks, and servants in homes and hotels. To meet the growing demand of services like housing, food, laundry, and goods, Chinese immigrants began to establish businesses in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
In 1903, Chang Toy, who began as a labourer and eventually became a wealthy businessman, purchased the land at the corner of Carrall and Pender Streets. In 1912, the municipal government decided to widen Pender Street and as a result, expropriated 24 feet of Chang Toy’s land, leaving Toy with only a 6 foot wide plot of land. No one believed Toy would have any use for such a thin property and many assumed he would sell the remaining land to the neighbouring business. But in order to spite the city, and to win a $10,000 bet with a business associate, Toy decided to hire architects Bryan and Gillam to design a free-standing 6 feet wide building.
The building was known at the time as the Sam Kee Building, named after Chang Toy’s business, The Sam Kee Company. The building housed up to 13 businesses. On the main level, each window was a storefront for various businesses such as a general store, food vendors, a barber shop, a silk shop, and an architects office. The upper level provided housing and the underground level housed public baths.
The current owner, Jack Chow, operates an insurance business inside the building, and has restored the building several times over the years. Rod Chow, son of Jack Chow, explained the transformation the building has undergone. The outside of the building has been restored to maintain its historical past, while the inside was renovated to take advantage of its unique size. A glass staircase and the entire building has been designed and programmed to exhibit a symphonic light show.
The Jack Chow Building is recognized in the City of Vancouver Heritage Register and the Canadian Historic Places Registry thereby ensuring its rich history will be shared with future generations.