Local History Advent Calendar 2022 – Day 12 – W.H. Chow

It’s back! I has been 3 years since I published my last Local History Advent Calendar! So much has happened since that last time—including the publication of my first book, Mount Pleasant Stories—that I figured it was about time to dust off the Local History Advent Calendar once again. Similar to a regular advent calendar but instead of chocolate treats, each day you “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder– 24 facts or stories about local history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

1908 Henderson’s Vancouver DirectoryAdvert for W.H. Chow showing his home on 24 East 3rd Ave and the address of his office 360 Front St. (East 1st Ave).

W.H. Chow was a Chinese-Canadian architect, builder and contractor working in Vancouver from around 1907 to the late 1920s. From his office on East 1st Ave (later on Pender St, in Chinatown) he designed a variety of commercial and institutional projects for clients from Vancouver’s Chinese community.

William Henry Chow was born in 1874 in Southern China, and arrived in Canada in 1894. In 1903, he married New Westminster born Nellie Look Won, a widow and the youngest sister of Won Alexander Cumyow. In 1904 the Chows moved into a home at 160 Lorne Street (today W 3rd Ave.) in Mount Pleasant. By 1907, the family moved into a new house built by W.H. at 24 East 3rd. Avenue (pictured in the ad above).

W.H. and Nellie had 2 children together, Robert and Richard, in addition to Lena and Stanley from Nellie’s first marriage. 

W.H. Chow was involved in the short-lived B.C. Society of Architects and used the term ‘architect’ on his building drawings. However, when the Architectural Institute of BC was established in 1920, Chow was denied admission to the professional self-regulatory body because he supposedly lacked “technical skills”. It is very likely he was denied admission purely for racist reasons. In 1922 he was prosecuted for violating the Architects Act (see clippings above) for hanging a sign outside his office that advertised himself as an “architect”.

Two of the buildings that Chow designed that still stand today are the Yue Shan Society building and Ming Wo on East Pender Street. Chow also worked with architect W.T. Whiteway on several Chinatown buildings.

VDW, January 15, 1914.

You can find more Mount Pleasant stories in my walking tour book, Mount Pleasant Stories. Copies are available for purchase in Mount Pleasant at Pulpfiction Books – 2422 Main Street and in Chinatown at Massy Books – 229 E Georgia St. It makes a great gift or stocking stuffer for your favourite local history buff!


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