the Chinese Freemasons

First established in Vancouver in 1892, Chee Kung Tong renamed itself the Chinese Freemasons in 1920.19 Appealing to shopkeepers and small merchants as much as it did to migrant workers, it could be said to have had more in common with the Huiguan than the Tiandihui. Originally siding with Sun Yat-sen, after 1912 they felt themselves betrayed by Sun Yat-sen in China and increasingly marginalized by local Kuomintang. To aid in promoting the society’s political views, as well as to recruit members, in 1907 they established a newspaper, Dahan gongbao (The Chinese Times).

The Chinese Freemasons Building is a four-storey brick facade surrounding a modern glass and concrete core, located at 5 West Pender Street at the western edge of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown. Constructed between 1906 and 1907, probably for the Chee Kung Tong, this building’s heritage value is found both in its architecture and in its history of use.

The ground floor, like most ground floors in Chinatown, was used for retail space and offices, while the upper floors were used for a restaurant by a long-term tenant, the Pekin Restaurant (later the Pekin Chop Suey House). The Chee Kung Tong, sometimes called the Oriental Society and later the Chinese Freemasons, had their meeting rooms here, as well as a dormitory for Chinese males and a Chinese school. Such uses are representative of those commonly found in Chinese society buildings in Chinatowns throughout the world.

The earliest manifestation of the society, the Chee Kung Tong, dates its establishment as a fraternal order to the earliest immigration of Chinese to British Columbia during the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858. It is therefore associated with the establishment of the Chinese community in British Columbia and in Canada. The Freemasons were intensively involved in the politics of China. Intense involvement in Chinese politics was a characteristic of the overseas Chinese community generally for many years with divisions within the community, reflecting adherence to different political agendas. The history of the Freemasons tells us a great deal about aspects of the history of the Chinese community, in particular the role of the politics and organizational life, and the enduring connections to China. While the specifics are peculiar to Vancouver, the general pattern of engagement is common to overseas Chinese communities more generally.

The building was slightly damaged during the anti-Chinese riots of 1907.

the Chinese Freemasons

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