Chan family house in 1950s Vancouver

Chan Kai Nang and Chan Man Yick, in their Vancouver dining room

These photographs are from my husband grandparents’ house, a blue Edwardian two-storey that still stands in Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest residential neighbourhood. The house is less than a block away from our studio and very close to where we both live. Strathcona was – and is – home to many of Vancouver’s early Chinese immigrants.
Chan House, Kitchen, 1958

These are bare-bones interiors. My grandfather-in-law, Kai Nang Chan, worked at a laundry for sixty hours a week and sent all his money home to China to help care for his family. I’m probably blinded by my love for my in-laws, but there’s something dignified and even sweet about these rooms, despite the fact there’s absolutely no hint of pleasure or comfort in them. It’s nearly penal. Taken around 1958, these photographs were meant show my husband’s father what awaited him if and when he could afford to come to Canada to join his parents. I’m not sure what’s so enticing about oilcloth floors and floral wallpaper, but I love the detail of the lovingly-posed electric guitar put there by the one son who “made it”. You can see the guitar below in the bedroom of the youngest son, Alan, who came to Canada with his mother following the lifting of the Chinese Exclusion Act. He and his mother are seated together in the following photo. Alan embraced all things western: he had a ducktail and a leather jacket to go with the electric guitar. Vancouver, especially the East End, still had a frontier feel in the 50s. There was an elderly uncle – or family friend, it’s sort of fuzzy – who wore nothing but cowboy gear. Chaps, hat, spurs, the whole thing, and walked around Strathcona in it. I know my husband has a photo of him, but unfortunately an embarrassed photographer (probably my husband’s grandfather) told him to take the hat off. But he’s still in full chaps. This era in Chinatown’s history is well-documented in Wayson Choy’s award-winning novel The Jade Peony.

Alan Chan's bedroom on Keefer Street, with electric guitar

Man Yick and son Alan in their living room

Chan house on Keefer Street, Vancouver, 1950s

The house today:

700 block of Keefer Street

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4 Responses to “Chan family house in 1950s Vancouver”

  1. Fiona Says:

    Thanks for posting this Sarah,
    Great pics. The kitchen is strangely familiar 🙂

  2. James Says:

    It looks so comfortable! Except that the ashtray on a stand in the living room picture is a reminder of times best forgotton!

  3. John Says:

    Wonderful archive enriched by your text makes a nice tribute. Perhaps you are a bit ‘harsh’ in your appraisal of their creature comforts. Not elegant, but certainly looks comfortable (to me) and within the styles and means of that historical time. They did have plants in all their spaces to enjoy.

  4. alicia wilhite Says:

    love the furniture wonderful era wish it was the 1950s now!!!!

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