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Wing Wah Chong Co. Building

Lethbridge

Other Names:
Canton Chop Suey Restaurant
Han Dynasty Importique
Kwong On Lung Co. Building
Manie Opera Society Building
New China Restaurant

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Wing Wah Chong Co. Building is a two-storey, flat-roofed structure with stucco-on-brick exterior. The roof has a slightly raised pediment and upper cornice featuring faded Chinese characters that translate to ‘New China Restaurant’. There are four single-hung segmental arch windows on the second floor, and segmental arch windows and door openings on the main floor. The building is situated on a commercial lot on Second Avenue South in the heart of Lethbridge’s historic Chinese neighbourhood.

Heritage Value
The Wing Wah Chong Co. Building is significant as a rare and excellent example of an early twentieth-century Chinese commercial building. It is additionally significant due to its association with one of Alberta’s oldest Chinatowns.

Built in 1908, the Wing Wah Chong Co. Building is highly significant as a rare example of a pre-World War One Chinese-owned commercial building. Its high level of integrity strongly communicates the structure’s multiple uses, as well as the central importance of such buildings in Chinese-Albertan communities. In its early years, the building was occupied by a pair of Chinese goods retailers, the Wing Wah Chong Co. (1908-18) and the Kwong On Lung Co. (1919-24). This original use is conveyed by the building’s form and massing – typical of pre-World War One commercial blocks in Lethbridge – as well as its proximity to other historically Chinese-owned businesses along Second Avenue South. The basement yields evidence of the building’s residential use, with remnants of sleeping cubicles used by Chinese immigrants. Chinese merchants commonly rented space out to lodgers in the early 1900s, and the cubicles vividly convey the cramped living conditions endured by working-class Chinese immigrants. More broadly, the cubicles illustrate the crucial importance of commercial buildings in Chinese-Albertan communities – merchants were often the first point of contact for newly-arrived Chinese immigrants, and providing accommodation space was one of the ways that merchants maximized their revenue and helped new arrivals adjust to life in Alberta. From 1917 until the late 1960s, the top floor was home to a succession of restaurants, including the Pekin Café, Canton Chop Suey, and New China Chop Suey. Restaurants were among the most common businesses established by Chinese entrepreneurs, and the Wing Wah Chong Co. Building’s use as a restaurant is echoed by Chinese ghost signage on the pediment that translates to ‘New China Restaurant.’ In short, the building’s exceptional heritage value is manifest in its ability to communicate multiple and distinct uses – restaurant, retail space, living quarters – which in turn echo the socio-economic structure of Chinese-Albertan communities. The commercial elements reflect the entrepreneurship of Chinese merchants; the cubicles strongly illustrate the austere living conditions of working-class immigrants; and the building’s dual business and residential functions collectively demonstrate the central importance of commercial structures in early Chinese-Albertan communities.

The building has additional heritage value due to its association with one of Alberta’s earliest Chinatowns – distinct clusters of Chinese settlement, commerce and cultural activity that were found in the province’s major urban centres. In their earliest stage of development, these Chinatowns tended to emerge along a single street and were anchored by businesses such as laundries, restaurants and retail stores that attracted a predominantly Chinese clientele and became magnets for further settlement. The Wing Wah Chong Co. Building reflects this process – it was one of the first commercial structures built along Second Avenue South, and remains an important element of a streetscape that strongly conveys a distinct historical Chinese neighbourhood. This nascent Chinatown emerged near a gulch on what was the western edge of Lethbridge in the early 1900s, away from the downtown core. This location reflects the racism faced by Chinese in Lethbridge in the early 1900s. This discrimination was reflected in the general unwillingness of Euro-Canadian landlords to rent commercial space to Chinese merchants in downtown Lethbridge and mob violence against Chinese residents and businesses in 1907, which further discouraged Chinese merchants from locating in the city’s commercial core. This concentration of Chinese settlement was reinforced by a discriminatory bylaw in 1911 that confined Chinese-owned laundries to a ‘restricted area’ on the western edge of town.

While these factors are specific to Lethbridge, they echo a general pattern of racist hostility and discrimination in other Albertan cities that ensured Chinatowns would emerge in isolated areas where there was little development pressure. In addition, the Second Avenue South streetscape is one of the last in Alberta that reflects the emergence of a pre-World War One Chinatown in its original location – other Albertan Chinatowns have either moved or lost the integrity necessary to communicate a distinct historical Chinese neighbourhood. The heritage value of the Wing Wah Chong Co. Building is thus greatly enhanced by its spatial relationship with other historically Chinese-owned buildings along Second Avenue South, its siting away from the downtown core, and its status as a constituent element of one of the last remaining streetscapes that reflects the earliest years of Chinese settlement in Alberta.

Source: Historic Resources Management Branch (File: DES 1272)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Wing Wah Chong Co. Building include, but are not limited to, its:
- siting in Lethbridge’s historic Chinatown;
- form, scale, and massing;
- parged brick masonry exterior with slightly raised pediment and upper cornice;
- Chinese ghost signage on the pediment;
- remnants of basement cubicles;
- fenestration pattern with segmental arch windows and door openings; and
- wood single-hung windows.


Location



Street Address: 318 Second 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
4353S
19
8 and 9


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

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

Historical Information

Built: 1908/01/01
Significant Date(s) 1908 to 1967
Theme(s) Peopling the Land : Migration and Immigration
Peopling the Land : Settlement
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):
Architect:
Builder:
Context:

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1395
Designation File: DES 1272
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 9972
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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