The Chinese Benevolent Association Building was constructed in 1907. In the first half of the 20th century, the Chinese Benevolent Association was the most important organization in Chinatown. Its imposing council hall featured a shrine to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, and the room was furnished with elaborately carved armchairs from the Qing Dynasty. In the 1970s, the CBA lost most of its influence. It has since been restructured and has once again become an important organization in the Vancouver Chinese community.
The more recent Chinese Freemasons Building, next door, houses an organization with deep roots in China. It evolved from the Hongmen movement, which is said to have originated as a group opposed to Manchu rule. In 1910 and 1911, the organization, in their old Vancouver headquarters at Pender and Carrall streets, hid Dr. Sun Yat-Sen from the agents of the imperial Manchu government. The organization is also said to have mortgaged its previous building with the proceeds going to help pay for the Chinese revolution of 1911. The Chinese Freemasons have evolved independently from the worldwide Masonic movement and are not directly connected.
Douglas Aitken is the author of the book Three Faces of Vancouver. Every Monday, Faces of Vancouver looks at the area’s buildings, past and present, with a focus on Vancouver’s European, Asian, and First Nations cultures.