Six issues for ONLY $29.95! Save almost 40% off the cover price!
Sam Kee Building
After passing through the gateway entrance to Vancouver’s historic Chinatown district, one of the most striking sights is the Sam Kee Building, with its bright-red bay windows projecting over the sidewalk.
Built in 1913, these windows were not just decorative flourishes — they were an act of defiance against systemic discrimination towards the Chinese community.
During the early 1900s, Vancouver’s Chinatown was the largest Chinese community in Canada. But their high numbers did not protect Chinese Canadians against discrimination.
In 1907 the Vancouver Asiatic Exclusion League (VAEL) was formed with the goal of deporting Asian immigrants from Canada. VAEL garnered both political and popular support. The league succeeded in having the width of Pender Street increased in the hope of rendering the adjacent land useless to Chinese merchants who might wish to set up shop there.
But one local landowner, a successful businessman named Chang Toy (the Caucasian community called him Sam Kee), refused to be pushed aside.
Toy hired architects Bryan and Gillam to build a six-foot-wide (1.8-metre) shop with projecting bay windows to overcome the limitations of the tiny footprint.
The building remains a symbol of perseverance for the growing Chinese community.
Thanks to Section 25 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada became the first country in the world to recognize multiculturalism in its Constitution. With your help, we can continue to share voices from the past that were previously silenced or ignored.
We highlight our nation’s diverse past by telling stories that illuminate the people, places, and events that unite us as Canadians, and by making those stories accessible to everyone through our free online content.
Canada’s History is a registered charity that depends on contributions from readers like you to share inspiring and informative stories with students and citizens of all ages — award-winning stories written by Canada’s top historians, authors, journalists, and history enthusiasts.
Any amount helps, or better yet, start a monthly donation today. Your support makes all the difference. Thank you!
Sign up for any of our newsletters and be eligible to win one of many book prizes available.