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Bow On Tong Co. Building


Other Names:
Tai Sing Wing Co. Building

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Bow On Tong Co. Building is a two-storey, flat-roofed building with a brick exterior. The roof has a slightly raised pediment and upper cornice featuring ‘Bow On Tong Co.’ in faded letters. The distinctive storefront is constructed of wood with large display and clerestory windows. A large business sign with English and Chinese lettering sits directly above a fixed transom over the main entrance. The building is situated on a commercial lot on Second Avenue South in the heart of Lethbridge’s historic Chinese neighbourhood.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Bow On Tong Co. Building rests in its reflection of Chinese immigration and settlement in early twentieth-century southern Alberta. It is further significant through its association with the historic role played by the merchant class in Chinese-Albertan communities. Finally, the building is significant for its reflection of early twentieth-century Chinese-Albertan domestic life through its long association with the Leong family.

Built in 1919, the Bow On Tong Co. Building is significant for its association with Chinese immigration and settlement in early twentieth-century southern Alberta. The building originally opened as the Tai Sing Co. store and from the outset it doubled as a lodging house for newly-arrived Chinese immigrants, illustrating the significant role played by merchants who provided accommodation in Chinese-Albertan communities. The Bow On Tong Co. Building is one of several historic Chinese structures located on the south side of Second Avenue South, and the building’s original spatial context is strongly conveyed by the exceptional historical integrity of the overall streetscape. The structure’s historic use as a store is manifest in its form and massing – typical of early twentieth-century commercial blocks in Lethbridge – as well as its prominent signage, wooden storefront, large display and clerestory windows, and original wooden cabinets with Chinese lettering lining the south and west walls (in continuous use since the late 1920s). As a highly intact example of a Chinese commercial building, the Bow On Tong Co. store strongly reflects the history of Chinese-Albertan urban settlement and contributes greatly to the overall integrity of one of the province’s oldest distinct Chinese neighbourhoods.

The Bow On Tong Co. Building is additionally significant for its association with the historic roles of the Chinese merchant class in Alberta as exemplified by Way Leong, who purchased the building in 1926. Merchants occupied a prominent place in the social structure of Chinese-Albertan communities. In addition to their economic role as entrepreneurs, merchants exercised considerable influence as associational leaders, community spokesmen and cultural brokers. Way Leong is strongly representative of this social class and as a result, the Bow On Tong Co. Building reflects the personal and professional activities that characterized this unique and important group. First and foremost, the Bow On Tong Co. store was a substantial and enduring commercial enterprise that operated continuously as an apothecary and Chinese goods importer under the ownership of the Leong family for over ninety years. It was the commercial anchor of Lethbridge’s Chinatown and stands as an important reminder of the larger contribution of Chinese merchants to Alberta’s economic growth and development. The building was also an important site of associational activity, hosting meetings of the Leong clan association (of which Way Leong was a leading organizer) from 1929 through 1967. Such associations were essential features of Chinese settlement throughout Alberta and were also an important means through which prominent merchants could exercise leadership and influence within their communities. The building was a site of sustained commercial, associational and social use that reflects the historic presence and contributions of the merchant class in Chinese-Albertan communities.

Finally, the building draws additional significance as a domestic space long associated with the daily lives of the Leong family – Way, his wife Florence who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in 1919, and their thirteen children. The structural racism faced by Chinese immigrants most notably the $500 Head Tax (1903) and the full exclusion of Chinese immigrants from Canada in 1923, created particular conditions that made family formation very rare in Chinese-Albertan communities. The small number of Chinese families that did settle in Alberta in this period were overwhelmingly drawn from the merchant class, who represented only a small proportion of the overall Chinese population but were exempt from the Head Tax and could thus afford to bring their wives over from Canada. Available evidence suggests that there were as few as sixteen Chinese merchant families in Alberta after the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923 – as such, Florence and Way Leong were joining an extremely small social group when they arrived in Lethbridge in 1926. Merchant families played an essential role sustaining Chinese-Albertan communities during the Exclusion Era (1923-47), when new immigration was banned and population growth came only from natural increase and migration from other provinces. As such, Florence’s presence allowed her to play an important role helping to operate the Bow On Tong Co. store, and her decades-long association with the building reflects the important and often overlooked contributions of women to the success of Chinese-Albertan businesses. The Leong family’s long association with the building reflects an important social dimension of Chinese history in Alberta – the presence of merchant families, and the emergence of an Albertan-born Chinese settlement population.
Source: Historic Resources Management Branch (File: DES 1271)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Bow On Tong Co. Building include, but are not limited to, its:
- Location on a commercial lot in Lethbridge’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood;
- brick exterior;
- upper front façade with raised pediment bearing signband;
- corbelled string course;
- wood single-hung windows;
- wood storefront with large display and clerestory windows and wood cornice;
- centrally-placed door within vestibule recess, vertical tongue-in-groove cladding and fixed transom with business sign in English and Cantonese;
- offset secondary door and large transom window;
- original apothecary cabinets of varnished wood with Cantonese lettering;
- original wood floors and pressed metal ceilings; and
- remnants of basement cubicles with graffiti and newspapers.


Street Address: 316 - 2 Avenue South
Community: Lethbridge
Boundaries: Lots 8 and 9, Block 19, Plan 4353S
Contributing Resources: Building

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
8 and9

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
49.696417 -112.842404 NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2019/06/27

Historical Information

Built: 1919 to 1919
Period of Significance: 1919 to 1967
Theme(s): Building Social and Community Life : Community Organizations
Developing Economies : Trade and Commerce
Peopling the Land : Migration and Immigration
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1394
Designation File: DES 1271
Related Listing(s): 4664-0322
Heritage Survey File: HS 9971
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8
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