Artists hosting hot pot dinner party to help restore historic Vancouver Chinatown building

·3 min read
The Lim Sai Hor Association building at 525 Carrall St. is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, May 28, 2021. Erected in 1903 by the Chinese Empire Reform Association, its current tenants are hoping a virtual fundraising event will help cover restoration costs. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
The Lim Sai Hor Association building at 525 Carrall St. is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, May 28, 2021. Erected in 1903 by the Chinese Empire Reform Association, its current tenants are hoping a virtual fundraising event will help cover restoration costs. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A unique heritage building in Vancouver's Chinatown is in need of some tender loving care and a local artist co-op is hosting a fundraiser in hopes of providing just that.

The Lim Sai Hor Kow Mock Benevolent Association building, located at 525 Carrall St., was built in 1903 and is steeped in history.

It was the original Vancouver headquarters for the Chinese Empire Reform Association, a group that supported the return of the Guangxu Emperor who had been imprisoned following a coup. The group's goals were derailed by revolutionaries, led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and the association disbanded after the Republic of China was established in 1912.

The Lim Association moved into the space in the 1920s and purchased it in 1945, according to the Chinatown Society Heritage Buildings Association. The non-profit has used the space as a central hub for supporting Chinese-Canadian labourers and serving the Chinatown community for decades.

It now houses the society, which is currently working to preserve the space and chronicle its history, and a non-profit artist's co-op that moved in in 2020.

A green and white wood and brick structure, the building's architectural features include a double-storey ground floor, recessed balconies on the second and third floors and double frontages onto Shanghai Alley and Carrall Street.

Currently, the building is showing its age and its newest tenants want to help raise the funds needed to replace old pipes and electrical wiring and do some seismic upgrading.

Party for preservation

On Saturday, May 29, David Ng and Jen Sungshine, members of the Vancouver Artists Labour Union Co-op (VALU Co-op), are co-hosting a "Hot Pot Talks" virtual dinner-party-style talk show where participants dine on hot pot kits they can pick up earlier that day and enjoy at home while listening to stories about the building and its history.

Ng and Sungshine will be joined by special guest Orville Lim, the president of the Lim Sai Hor Kow Mock Benevolent Association

Orville Lim, the vice-president of the the Lim Sai Hor Kow Mock Benevolent Association, will be a special guest at the virtual dinner party fundraiser and will share stories about the history of the association's building and Vancouver's Chinatown.
Orville Lim, the vice-president of the the Lim Sai Hor Kow Mock Benevolent Association, will be a special guest at the virtual dinner party fundraiser and will share stories about the history of the association's building and Vancouver's Chinatown.(Submitted by Orville Lim)

Not only will proceeds raised go toward repairs, the co-op is also collaborating with the Lim Association on a project called Engaging Chinatown — a multi-year initiative to digitize the association's paper archives.

"When we knew that we were moving into Chinatown, which is a neighborhood that is at the centre of a lot of political issues and also [experiencing] displacement due to gentrification, we really wanted to do something that was accountable to the community," said Ng, speaking on CBC's The Early Edition.

And Ng said there is much to share about the building people likely do not know.

Secret treasure

For example, when the building was occupied by the Chinese Empire Reform Association, Ng said racist city laws prevented Chinese people from building past certain streets and the structure still has markings that were made on it in the early 1900s to show where those borders were.

There's also a secret time capsule that no one has been able to locate in the concrete foundation of the building that contains the opening day speech from 1903 and eight gold coins.

The building's architectural features include a double-storey ground floor, recessed balconies on the second and third floors and double frontages onto to Shanghai Alley and Carrall Street.
The building's architectural features include a double-storey ground floor, recessed balconies on the second and third floors and double frontages onto to Shanghai Alley and Carrall Street.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

To learn more about the Vancouver landmark, tickets to the fundraising event can be purchased on Eventbrite. The dinner party starts at 6 p.m.

Hot Pot Talks are on ongoing initiative by Ng and Sungshine, who are also members of the media arts collective Love Intersections.

The duo have done other hot pot events featuring different Chinatown artists, activists, chefs and performers particpating in conversation over food. Those conversations can be watched on Love Intersection's YouTube channel.

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