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East Pender (Dupont)

Even before Vancouver was incorporated as a City in 1886, a small Chinese district had developed in the area later named Shanghai Alley. By the 1890s, there were more than 1,000 Chinese residents living there and in 1898, a 500-seat Chinese theatre was in operation on Shanghai Alley. Canton Alley, developed in 1904, was a courtyard enclosed by two parallel rows of buildings running south from Pender Street. The main floors of these buildings were stores, with their upper floors used as residences, boarding houses, and meeting halls. The courtyard had only one entrance, eventually including an iron gate that could be closed like a fort in an emergency. This was meant to protect the residents from attacks like the Anti-Asian Riot of 1907. Apartment units were small and residents used every inch of space, keeping firewood under their beds and hanging drying fish and mustard greens on the fire escapes. Children played and picked up spilled coal along the railroad tracks next to Canton Alley.
Located near the intersection of Carrall and Pender (called Dupont Street before 1904), which was then the business centre of Chinatown, the two alleys were the centre of community life from the 1890s to mid 1920s. Old-timers recall that back in the decade 1900-1910 Shanghai Alley was a centre of nightlife, with its shops, a theatre and long row of tenement houses. Rehearsals of Chinese opera and Chinese music often filled the alleys with voices of operatic singing and the sounds of musical instruments. Excited outbursts from card games such as Fan-tan, Black Jack, Chinese Dominoes and Mah Jong, as well as the clanging sounds from bells of the B.C. Electric Railway trains that passed by regularly were also part of the ambience. Shanghai Alley
20 Pender Street West Fire Insurance Map In the 1920s, the commercial centre of Chinatown began to shift towards Main and Pender Streets and residents of the two alleys also began to move eastward. The alleys became the western margin of Chinatown. By 1938, Canton Alley had become a private roadway owned by the City with lots leased to the Yip Sang family. It disappeared when a warehouse was erected on the site in 1949. Shanghai Alley, by 1946, was reduced to a tiny alley running south from Pender. Several of its buildings also disappeared under warehouses, leaving two of the original buildings with their facades. In 1995, Shanghai Alley was extended westward at a right angle from its south end to meet Taylor Street. Canton Alley was reestablished when the Chinese Benevolent Association Manor, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Social Services Centre and the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association headquarters were built on its site in 1998.
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