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Bow on Tong


Other Names:
Bow on Tong Co.
Tai Sign Wing Co.

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Bow on Tong Co. building is a two-storey, flat roofed, brick commercial building. It occupies a commercial lot in the heart of Chinatown district in Lethbridge's downtown.

Heritage Value
The Bow On Tong Co. building is significant for its association with the development of the Chinatown district in Lethbridge and reflects the diversity of Lethbridge’s and Alberta’s heritage, architecture and history as well as for its association with the Leong family.

Lethbridge’s Chinatown provided services and support for Chinese Canadians across southwestern Alberta. On 1 January 1911 Lethbridge Bylaw 83 came into effect. The Bylaw restricted all laundries to a specific geographical area. However, when only Chinese laundries were forced to move, the true nature of the bylaw, to move all Chinese businesses and residents into a less desirable area of the community, soon was achieved. While the Bylaw was repealed in 1916, it led to the formalization of Chinatown, also known as the “Restricted Area.”

Constructed in Chinatown in 1919, during a period of economic recession, the ground floor has consistently housed Chinese groceries. Tai Sign Wing Co. opened in the building in the early 1920s, dealing in Chinese goods.

By the mid 1920s, the Bow On Tong Co. Apothecary (Chinese herbal store) and Chinese goods store was established. Bow On Tong, which translated to English means “good health”, was owned and operated by Way Leong. Leong emigrated from China (Hong Kong) to Vancouver before moving to Lethbridge in 1926. The Bow On Tong is a rare Chinese apothecary with objects from China and the Vancouver store.

The Bow On Tong Co. was a popular meeting and leisure area; the main floor accommodated the store and also provided a well frequented location for gambling. The gambling was more than just a pastime. “At one time in Lethbridge’s history, gambling was carried on in Chinatown and many whites participated. In the late 1930’s, Chinese pool tickets were sold openly on the streets and there were 14 gambling establishments. A few were prosecuted but the courts were lenient because the proceeds were used for welfare purposes among the older Chinese.” [Howard Palmer, Land of the Second Chance] It was a point of pride among the Chinese in Lethbridge that no Chinese person had to rely on “relief” [welfare] during the Great Depression and gambling was one manner in which the Chinese community in Lethbridge provided support to its own members. Gambling in the Bow On Tong and other Chinese establishments was vital to the economic welfare of Chinese Canadians in southwestern Alberta.

The top floor and basement were apartments occupied by Chinese tenants as well as the owners. Because of exclusionary immigration practices, many of the occupants of Chinatown were single men. Boarding houses/residences such as the Bow On Tong were essential in providing housing support. The second floor of the building has seven individual living quarters, a three room suite at the front and a kitchen at the back of the building that served the rooming area. The building has two connecting doorways to the adjoining Manie Opera Society building; one on the main floor and one on second floor. These connecting pathways were part of the original construction of the Bow On Tong.

The Bow On Tong Co. building is significant for its association with the Leong family, a family of Chinese entrepreneurs and business owners who contributed to the social and cultural life of the Chinese Canadian community of southwestern Alberta.

Albert Leong, Way’s son and the current manager, continued to reside in the building until 2013 and had continued to run the store that had been in the family for 80 years. Way Leong emigrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver and in 1921 brought Florence (Ho) to Canada. In 1923 the Chinese Immigration Act made it nearly impossible for Chinese men to bring wives to Canada. This Act, the cost of head tax and discriminatory immigration policies meant that the number of Chinese in Alberta actually dropped between 1921 (3581) and 1931 (3211). The Leongs persevered against the odds to create a viable Chinese goods business in Lethbridge and to help build a social and cultural community for the Chinese Canadians of southwestern Alberta. Florence Leong operated the store when her husband was ill and following his death.

The store is a remarkable example of the type of business important during the development of the community, while the storefront and exterior of the building still convey the feeling of this historic district.

Source: City of Lethbridge (Bylaw 5855)

Character-Defining Elements
The character defining elements as expressed in the form, massing, and material of the 1919 two-storey building, such as:

• The original wooden storefront with cornice above, and with central doorway and shop windows.
• The brick material, corbelling and decorations, including brick sills and headers, and a brick cornice on second storey.
• The pattern, style and construction of all original, wooden windows, especially the storefront windows.
• The wooden side entrance and doorway with window above.


Street Address: 316 - 2 Avenue South
Community: Lethbridge
Boundaries: Lot 8, Block 19, Plan 4353S
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
49.696587 -112.842555 Digital Maps NAD83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type
5506526 632875 Digital Maps NAD83


Recognition Authority: Local Governments (AB)
Designation Status: Municipal Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2014/02/03

Historical Information

Built: 1919/01/01
Significant Date(s) 1919_present
Historic Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Residence : Multiple Dwelling
Current Function(s):

Additional Information

Object Number: 4664-0322
Designation File:
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link:
Data Source: Planning & Development Services City Hall, 910 - 4 Avenue South Lethbridge, AB, T1J0P6
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