Vancouver real estate marketer to vacate historic Chinatown building, make way for Chinese Canadian Museum

·2 min read
The Wing Sang Building in Chinatown in Vancouver, pictured in this undated handout photo, will soon be home to the Chinese Canadian Museum with funding from the province and real estate marketer Bob Rennie. (Handout by Rennie/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Wing Sang Building in Chinatown in Vancouver, pictured in this undated handout photo, will soon be home to the Chinese Canadian Museum with funding from the province and real estate marketer Bob Rennie. (Handout by Rennie/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Vancouver real estate marketer and art collector Bob Rennie will be vacating his office in the oldest building in Chinatown to make way for a new Chinese Canadian museum.

The Chinese Canadian Museum, scheduled to open next summer, will be located in the Wing Sang Building on 51 East Pender St. — currently home to the real estate company Rennie, and the Rennie Museum, which opened in 2009.

In February, the B.C. government said it will provide $27.5 million to help support the Chinese Canadian museum project, including the purchase of the building, while Rennie said he will contribute another $7.8 million.

The building will be owned and operated by the Chinese Canadian Museum Society of British Columbia.

Rachel Topham Photography
Rachel Topham Photography

Grace Wong, chair of the society, says she is excited for the museum's opening next year.

"Next summer is a particularly important time because it's the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Immigration Act, but known as the Chinese Exclusion Act because it fundamentally said that we will not let Chinese into this country," Wong said.

"How poignant 100 years later we would open a Chinese-Canadian museum in the oldest building in Chinatown and for all that it stands for."

But before he packs up, Rennie is holding one more exhibition.

ISHOT
ISHOT

Titled 51@51 — 51 artworks at 51 East Pender — the exhibition features 51 pieces by 36 artists from his vast collection of some 3,000 artworks, including two sculptures in the rooftop sculpture garden. It runs until Nov. 12.

"The building's been really good to us to showcase our collection," he told Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast, adding that the building has served its purpose and he will find another space.

Rennie says he had no intention of selling the Wing Sang Building, having invested $22 million in renovating it after purchasing it in 2004.

However, when the society was looking for a space for the museum, Rennie says he felt it would be the best custodian for the building, named after prominent businessman Yip Sang.

City of Vancouver archives
City of Vancouver archives

Yip, once regarded the unofficial mayor of Chinatown, built the Wing Sang Building in 1889 for his labour contracting and import and export business.

Rennie says he hopes the museum will be a new landmark to entice people back to Chinatown.

Wong says plans for the museum include turning more of the existing office space into gallery spaces.

"We want to have permanent galleries, temporary galleries, programming space and so forth and that way, more people, both locally, visitors, will all be able to come and we can show the expanse of stories of Chinese Canadians and the history throughout the province," she said.

"We want to reflect the stories of not only Vancouver but all of B.C. and ultimately across the country."