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Grandson of Vancouver Chinatown icon Yip Sang shares tales as museum prepares to open

May 28, 2023

By Vancouver Sun |

Mel Yip’s old home is being turned into a museum.

Yip grew up on the sixth floor of a residential structure behind the Wing Sang building at 51 E. Pender St., the oldest building in Chinatown.

The province purchased the 1889 building last year and is renovating it to house the Chinese Canadian Museum.

The museum is due to open July 1, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese people from immigrating to Canada between 1923 and 1947.

Recently, the 87-year-old returned to the Wing Sang building to reminisce for Asian Heritage Month. But it’s a far different building than the one he knew.

Real estate powerhouse Bob Rennie bought and restored the property in 2004, turning it into offices for his real estate company and an art gallery in the old residential building.

The back building where Mel Yip grew up was structurally unsound when Rennie bought it, so it was completely rebuilt and reimagined. The interior floors were taken out, making for a dramatic four-storey space that will serve as the main gallery for the museum.

Asked what it feels like to stand inside the new space, Mel Yip said: “Strange. (When) I came here the first time, I lost my way.”

But there is one room in the complex that is unchanged: a school room in the front building where Yip Sang’s children were taught. It retains its floor-to-ceiling green beadboard panelling, blackboard and fir floors, and looks straight out of the 19th century.

“The pot stove used to be there — see the hole?” he said.

Source: Vancouver Sun