WH Pender February 24th, 2011 Guest Review
by David Gawne
February 24th was cold and windy, and the sun was busy behind the clouds the whole day. Besides producing a lot of snot and chattering teeth, the cold and wind gnawed at everything but our zeal, for the group had silently resolved to be as hard as the nails that were left out of the Chinese Gardens’ building plans. We resolved also to enjoy ourselves, and there is scant reason why one would not in such a beautiful setting as our first stop, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden: It is a place where one stands in the idea that produced it; everywhere there is harmony, balance, and the pursuit thereof.
Our group exploring the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden – amazed it was built without power tools or nails (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
Another interesting stop on our walk was Market Alley, where there were already a number of people who took an altogether different interest in it, and who for the most part ignored our presence. And how strange! We went from harmony and balance to dark recesses and isolation in a block and a half. I almost felt like our group was in the wrong place — that perhaps one of the muttering pigeons would ask for our ‘papers’, frisk us for bread crumbs, and send us on our way. Instead, we learned about the history of Market Alley and the Wing Sang building and Rennie Collection, and I wondered who else might have designs for this area of the city. I figured it could use anything but more bird poop.
Walking past the back of the Wing Sang Building (which houses the Rennie Collection) in Market Alley (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
We on the other hand needed food, so we eventually entered a chinese bakery/restaurant called New Town Bakery on East Pender Street, taking in the sights (including the historical murals of a local artist Arthur Shu Ren Cheng) along the way. The bakery was a special stop for me, not only owing to the all-important and delicious calories I consumed, but rather owing to the conversation we were finally able to conduct without all the usual accompanying teeth chatter.
One of our favourite stops – New Town Bakery on East Pender (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
Here, Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn and I and a few others discussed travel. The themes of exploration and disorientation naturally presented themselves, and we each had a story of times in other places to amuse one another with. And now I suppose that this experience falls into such a category, for I don’t live or work in Vancouver, either. It was one of those ‘other times‘ for me and one in which I am reminded of the expression, ‘Boots on the ground win wars.’ Declaring war on disorientation, though, marching around Chinatown and the DTES, had left only my self to be won over. Success!
February 24th, 2011 – The Map of Where We Went:
On February 24, 2011 I joined Walking Home Projects for their Chinatown / DTES walk. We met @ the Pender / Carrall intersection and proceeded to visit various architectural and cultural focal points, including the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Chinese Cultural Centre courtyard, various Chinese family societies, Market Alley, and New Town Bakery. My favorite part of the day was walking through a very narrow, locked alleyway that led to an interior courtyard belonging to The Yue Shan Society.
The narrow alleyway into the interior courtyard of the Yue Shan Society (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
Catherine Pulkinghorn, founder of Walking Home Projects, explained that this courtyard was constructed in traditional Chinese architectural fashion built by the family societies, or tongs, during this time period. Unfortunately during the early 1900s in Vancouver, racist bylaws and curfews were put into place and Chinese Canadians weren’t allowed to congregate on the street in the evening. These typical Chinese interior courtyards and alleyways became even more useful and necessary as they were the only way Chinese Canadians could legally be outdoors, shop, sell goods and congregate at night and get to each other. The interior courtyard of the Yue Shan Society is the last interior courtyard of its kind in Chinatown in Vancouver.
The interior courtyard of the Yue Shan Society (Photo credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)
It was a privilege to be let into this secret world – a mystical, “Harry Potter-esque” place. It was equally as sobering to realize that this interior courtyard became a necessity in such an overwhelmingly racist, narrow-minded time. Thanks to Catherine Pulkinghorn and Laurie Dawson for another informative, fun and enlightening historical walk!