HomeAsian CanadiansJack Chow, Chinatown mainstay, dies at 90
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Jack Chow, Chinatown mainstay, dies at 90

From Wikimedia Creative Commons by Mike

Jack Chow, a longtime resident and figure of Vancouver Chinatown, died of natural causes on Feb. 9 at Vancouver General Hospital, the Vancouver Sun reports. He was 90.

Chow’s insurance business, Jack Chow Insurance, was famous around the world for being the thinnest and shallowest commercial building in the world. Standing at six-feet wide and nearly 100-feet tall, Jack Chow Insurance is the only building in the world with a sign wider than itself.

The strange shape of this building was due to original owner Chang Toy’s (a.k.a. Sam Kee) disgruntlement with the city, which had expropriated the majority of the insurance’s original lot on Pender street for the purposes of expansion in 1913. The only space left for Chang was a six-feet wide, 96-feet long strip of land. 

from Wikimedia Creative Commons by Peanutian

In response, Chang commissioned an architect to build a structure that could fit within such a confined space. The building, known as the Sam Kee Building, has since been a source of revitalization and resistance within Chinatown.

Chow, keeping with the tradition of resistance to municipal authority, continually battled with the city over the building’s bay windows, which extended over the sidewalk. The city claimed that the windows took up airspace. “They wanted to charge us ($260 per year) taxes for the air space,” son Rod Chow said to the Vancouver Sun. “Eventually they reduced it to $1 a year. And then the postage was too much, so they eventually waived it entirely.”

Chow dedicated many years of his life to the growth and preservation of both his building and the Chinatown beyond. “He was pretty active to the end, always on the computer, giving us suggestions and ideas,” Rod Chow said. “And still talking to the city, because he was very concerned about Chinatown. He wanted to do whatever he can, right up to the end, to bring Chinatown back to how he remembered it.”

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