Canadian Genealogy · Chinese Genealogy · Family history stories

Finding the story behind the story: why is there a school room at Wing Sang?

In this post I explore the history of the school room at Wing Sang and extend family stories with documented evidence. This is the second post about Wing Sang since it was chosen as the site for the new Chinese Canadian Museum. If you’d like to read them in order, here is Wing Sang – A House of Memory.

The school room at Wing Sang

With the 2022 purchase of the Wing Sang complex at 51 East Pender Street, Vancouver, BC, custody of this historic site passed from Yip Sang (葉生) (1845-1927) and the Yip family to developer Bob Rennie to the Chinese Canadian Museum (CCM). Standing in the school room in November, I was struck by so many impressions. True, Bob had done a superb job at renovating the room to preserve its integrity, but was the school room really this big and well-appointed? Why was so much space devoted to it? Why install such big blackboards?

In fact, why was it built at all?

Many people have shared stories about the school room. Here are four examples.

Yip family member Dennis Leong said, “… and after dinner, the children would attend Chinese lessons on the 3rd Floor school room.”1

Veteran journalist John Mackie wrote an extensive story about Wing Sang (and its owner Bob Rennie) in 2005. He didn’t discuss the school but said, “The third floor almost has to be seen to be believed. It’s literally filled from floor to ceiling with wainscotting – every room, every hallway, even the stairwells. Old-style bare light bulbs hang down on wires from the ceiling in several rooms… Rennie hopes to retain as much as possible in the front building. “We’re not going to do fake old, we’re going to do new, and fix the old,” he says. “We’re going to do as much interior restoration as possible…””2

Graham Yip and Jeffrey Yip wrote, “On the third floor were the classroom, which was later converted into the family shrine room and a meeting hall to the rear for family celebrations and special occasions.”3

Historian Elwin Xie wrote, “There was also a schoolroom on the third floor, complete with blackboards, where teachers hired by Yip Sang taught younger family members. This room also had photographs of Yip Sang and his three wives on the wall where family members would stop on special occasions to pay their respects.”

From the above, I extract the following points:

  • The school was on the third floor of the Wing Sang building.
  • The room was well-appointed, with wainscotting and blackboards.
  • The Yip family studied their Chinese lessons in the school room.
  • The room did double duty as a rec room.
  • Bob Rennie preserved much of the original school room in his restorations.

Digging into the stories

CCM Exhibition and Program Manager Sarah Ling and I have been corresponding about the Wing Sang interiors. Here are a few of our questions about the school room:

  • Why was it built?
  • When was it built?
  • Who was hired to teach in it?
  • How long did the school run?

Why build a school at Wing Sang?

Let’s begin with why. Why build a school room at all? The existence of the school room and the stories about how it was used suggest several ideas – that Yip Sang strongly believed in education, that there was no other facility, and that the Yip children received their Chinese tutoring at home. I don’t doubt all of this is true. And yet, why invest so much money when a kitchen table would have sufficed? By every account, Yip Sang was an astute businessman. Was it possible that he built a school that could also be a great place for his own family?

In a letter dated 28 Dec [xxx]4, Yip wrote to W. D. Scott, Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration at Ottawa:5

In view of the fact that myself and several other Chinese residents of this city consider it would be to the advantage of the Chinese people to establish an independent school in Vancouver so as to facilitate a higher standard of education, we have decided to open a school in the third storey of the building known as Wing Sang & Co., situated at No. 51 Pender Street East, this city.

This school will be known as the Vancouver Independent School and will have as directors:

Yip Sang, President and Director.
Chee Quong, Vice-President and Director.
Yip Mow, Treasurer, Secretary and Director.
Chee Huang Chih and Yip Him, Directors.
Yip Bow Lum, Principal Instructor.

As it was found impossible to obtain a competent principal in this country, the services of Mr. Yip Bow Lum were obtained in China. He will arrive at Vancouver or Victoria as the earliest opportunity, having in his possession papers to prove that he is a duly certified teacher. Under these circumstances, I would be obliged, if, should it be in conformance with the Chinese Immigration Act, you would facilitate his entry to the best of your ability.

Thanking you in anticipation,
I remain,
Yours truly,
[blank, no signature]

Letter to W. D. Scott from Yip Sang, date uncertain

There are several noteworthy points:

  • The letter certainly suggests the room on the third floor of Wing Sang was intended as a working school.
  • The name of the new school was the “Vancouver Independent School.”
  • Yip and his partners were sourcing teachers outside of Canada and thus needed permission from Ottawa under the Chinese Immigration Act.
  • The date is missing: it could be any year ending -4.
  • The letter is not signed, suggesting it is a file or draft copy.

When was the school established?

Turning next to when, I’d like to know when the school was established. The school is located on the third floor of the Wing Sang Company complex. The front building was developed in stages, with the original two-storey structure completed in 1889. The $10,000 ($350,602 in 2022) third floor extension was completed in 1901; therefore, the school is no older than 1901.6 Yip Sang died in 1927, the letter year ends in “4” so the possible range is 1901-24.7

On 26 Dec 1914, the Victoria Daily Times reported on the doings of the tax courts and the establishment of new businesses subjected to the 1915 tax rolls. At the end of a long list of Victoria- and Vancouver-area companies, it said, “Other companies…The Vancouver Chinese Independent School Company has also been organized.”8 It seems likely the letter from Yip Sang to W. D. Scott was written in 1914 and that the company was established in 1914.

In 1917, Yip Mow, Secretary and Director of the school, received at least two letters from his lawyer, W. H. Johnson of Martin & Johnson:9

May 22nd, 1917.
Dear Yip Mow:

Some time ago I incorporated a Chinese School for you. If the School is still in operation I wish to call your attention to the fact that an annual return should be made in connection with the School to the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies…

Letter to Yip Mow from W. H. Johnson, 22 May 1917

June 26th, 1917.
Re: Vancouver Chinese Independent School.
Dear Sir,

The Annual Return of the above School has been filed by me with the Registrar of Joint-stock Companies… The Registrar in his letter to me points out that no by-laws of the Society have yet been filed.”

Letter to Yip Mow from W. H. Johnson, 26 Jun 1917.

From the above, it appears the school was created in 1914 but took some time to get the paperwork filed.

Who was hired to teach at the school?

From the above 1914 letter from Yip Sang et al. to W. D. Scott, Controller of Chinese Immigration, we know that a teacher had been hired: Mr. Yip Bow Lum. But there’s a world of difference between hiring a Chinese teacher and getting him in the country. Was permission granted? Did Yip Bow Lum make it through immigration? Was he subjected to the $500 head tax?

Because, in the end, what’s a school without a teacher? It’s a room with blackboards.

Yip Bow Lam arrived six months later. He left Hong Kong aboard the steamship SS Monteagle on 1 May 1915. The voyage took twenty-four days, calling in at Shanghai, Kobe, and Yokohama enroute. She arrived at Vancouver on May 25th. The Monteagle was a large ship: on that trip she carried 328 passengers (302 adults, 26 children under 14 years).10

It appears Yip Sang’s letter had a positive outcome. Yip Bow Lam, 30, teacher, arrived and was released by the Chinese Immigration officials in one day. Three checkmarks beside his head tax exempt status implies his papers were checked carefully and repeatedly.11 It is rare to see anyone outside a merchant be granted exemption from the head tax, which helps convince me this is the right person.

Abstracted details of the 1915 arrival of Yip Bow Lam, teacher, at Vancouver.
Excerpted abstract of the General Register of Chinese Immigration, 1915, showing the approval of Yip Bow Lam at Vancouver, BC. Created by the author.

Based on the above, we can conclude that a school was built, a teacher was hired, and he made it through immigration. The surname suggests Yip Bow Lam may also have been family.

How long did the school run?

It is possible the Vancouver Chinese Independent School merged with the Chinese Public School in 1918. Among the Wing Sang papers are two 1918 documents: i) an invoice from W. H. Johnson for legal work relating to the Vancouver Chinese Independent School,12 and ii) a letter from the City of North Vancouver to the “Acting President, Vancouver Chinese Public School, 51 Pender Street East,” granting permission to use Mahon Park for a picnic on July 15th.13 Why would Wing Sang be receiving mail for the Chinese Public School? Is this an error on the part of the City of North Vancouver? Did the two schools merge? It’s outside the scope of this post to investigate the history of the Chinese Public School, but for the Independent School, it appears it was still running in 1918.

For the Yip family, it’s less clear. It’s possible the private tutoring ended when Yip Sang died in 1927. It may have ended earlier: with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, banning all Chinese immigration.14 Dennis Leong (1919-99), first child of Yip Sang’s third daughter Yip Gim Ying (1895-1955), was the most senior family member I found who spoke of the school. In his account, he said, “… the children would attend Chinese lessons on the 3rd Floor school room,” but he did not say, “I attended lessons.” It’s possible he studied there: he would have been abt. eight in 1917.

Did the school survive the death of Yip Sang? More research is needed.


From my research, it appears the famous school room at Wing Sang has a deeper history than first suspected. In this post, I’ve compiled building permits, family stories, immigration records, newspaper articles, original correspondence, and passenger manifests to create a richer picture of the past. Yip Sang did indeed build a school in his home that his family could enjoy, but he also founded a school for the community and used his influence to hire its first principal and teacher.

Like all research, this post leaves me with more questions than answers: How many students studied at this school? What Chinese language or languages were taught? Did the school pay taxes or was it exempt? Did Yip Bow Lam teach at the new school? Was there more than one teacher and if yes, who? Who were the other directors (aside from Yip Mow and Yip Him)? How much did it cost to build? Did the Yip children study free of charge or did Yip Sang pay a fee to his own school? The school does not appear to be listed in city directories but did it receive a school charter under the City of Vancouver?

Thank yous

The Chinese Canadian Museum and the Yip Family
Sarah Ling, Dr. Melissa Karmen Lee, Grace Wong, Selena Yip, Linda Yip, Christina More, School Room at the CCM, 51 E. Pender Street, Vancouver, 10 Nov 2022. Photo by the CCM.

Thank you to the CCM for hosting my sister, cousin, and I in November.15 I can’t wait for the opening on July first! I was inspired to create this post after fielding all the excellent questions about the interior of Wing Sang and then standing in the school room. To historian and author Jim Wolf, thank you for discussing what a land title search might and might not reveal and suggesting the City of Vancouver archives for possible school permit records. To the Chung Collection archivists – thank you so much for finding the 1917 letters. Finally, I would like to share with you the astounding news that Board Chair Grace Wong, husband Richard K. Wong, and the Wong family donated $1.1M to the CCM! The school room will be named in their honour.16


I thought I’d try something different: footnotes! Do you like it?

1 Dennis Leong, “Outline of talk – Wing Sang Blg. 100 yr. celebration,” handwritten notes, 12 Aug 1989, 8 pages, digital images; Hoy and Grace Yip, Yip Articles and News Clips, binder, Hoy and Grace Yip fonds, Linda Yip personal collection, received 19 May 2022, Saskatoon, SK.

2 John Mackie, “Walking into City’s History,” The Vancouver Sun, 7 Jun 2005, Vancouver, BC, sec. Westcoast News – The Daily Special, The Vancouver Sun,

3 Graham Yip and Jeffrey Yip, History of the Wing Sang Building – Yip Sang and his Family, 2008, poster, presentation to Yip Family at the 2008 family reunion in Vancouver, BC, Linda Yip fonds, Saskatoon, SK.

4 Elwin Xie et al., “Yip Sang: The Life and Legacy of Yip Sang,” undated, blog, Our Stories ( : accessed 7 Dec 2022).

5 Yip Sang, “[Letter to W. D. Scott from Yip Sang],” [1904], Chung Textual Materials, University of British Columbia Chung Collection ( : accessed 28 Nov 2022).

6 “Historical Vancouver Building Permits: Heritage Vancouver Society,” database lookup, Vancouver Building Permits: Historic Transcribed Searchable Data ( : accessed 13 Feb 2022); “Disdained the Currency: Chinese Thief Took All the Silver in Sight, But Left $500 in Bank Notes.,” Vancouver Daily Province, 23 Jul 1901, Wing Sang completed the finest brick building on Dupont Street, Vancouver Daily Province,; Linda Yip, “Wing Sang: A House of Memory,” 2022, Past Presence ( : accessed 7 Dec 2022).

7 Linda Yip, “Tian 田 Chun 春 Yip 葉 (Abt. 1845-1927), 2022, database lookup, family chart, WikiTree Free Family Tree ( : accessed 7 Dec 2022).

8 “Courts of Revision Under Taxation Act – Dates Are Set; New Company to Take Over Westholme Hotel,” digital images, The Victoria Daily Times, 26 Dec 1914, establishment of the Vancouver Chinese Independent School Company in Vancouver, The Victoria Daily Times,

9 W. H. Johnson, “[2 Letters from W. H. Johnson to Yip Mow],” 1917, Chung Textual Materials, University of British Columbia Chung Collection ( : accessed 28 Nov 2022).

10 Canada, “Incoming passenger lists 1865-1935,” database online, pgs. 1, 4, images 76 and 80 of 94, cover and passenger manifest for Po Lam Yip arriving at Vancouver on 25 May 1915, ( : accessed 7 Dec 2022); citing Library and Archives Canada, file RG76C, Department of Employment and Immigration fonds, microfilms T-479 to T-520, T-4689 to T-4874, T-14700 to T-14938, C-4511 to C-4542.

11 Canada, Immigrants from China, 1885-1949, “General Register of Chinese Immigration,” digital images, immigration manifest, serial no. 84681, item ID no. 84691, microfilm no. T-3486, reference no. RG 76, D2a, C. I. 5 no. (C.I.30) 806, C. I. 6 no. 892349, Yip Bow Lam (Yip Pow Lam), registered 26 May 1915, Library and Archives Canada Collection Search ( : accessed 7 Dec 2022).

12 Yip Sang Company, “Records Related to Property, Legal and Business Matters,” Chung Textual Materials, 1917, letter from W. H. Johnson regarding work performed for the Vancouver Chinese Independent School on 25 Feb 1918, University of British Columbia Chung Collection ( : accessed 27 Nov 2022).

13 City of North Vancouver, “[Letter from R. F. Archibald to the Acting President of the Vancouver Chinese Public School].” Chung Textual Materials, 1918, letter from Vancouver to the Chinese Public School, University of British Columbia Chung Collection ( : accessed 30 Nov 2022).

14 “Chinese Immigration Act, 1923,” wikipedia, full text of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, (undated), Wikisource (,_1923 : accessed 21 Mar 2022).

15 “Welcome to the Chinese Canadian Museum,” website, museum and archives, 2022, Canadian Chinese Museum 華裔博物館, ( : accessed 7 Dec 2022).

16 “Grace Wong and Richard K. Wong Donate $1.1 Million to Chinese Canadian Museum,” 1 Nov 2022, museum and archives, Canadian Chinese Museum 華裔博物館 ( : accessed 7 Dec 2022).

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