Historic Lethbridge Chinatown now Provincial Historic Resource

Two historic buildings, located in one of Alberta’s oldest Chinatown districts, have been added to the list of Provincial Historic Resources. After agreement from the buildings’ owner Albert Leong, the Wing Wah Chong Co. and Bow On Tong Co. buildings in Lethbridge are now provincially-protected historic resources.

Restaurants were among the most common businesses established by Chinese entrepreneurs. The Wing Wah Chong building was, at one point, named New China Chop Suey. The faded Chinese lettering on the pediment is still visible today.
Restaurants were among the most common businesses established by Chinese entrepreneurs. The Wing Wah Chong building was, at one point, named New China Chop Suey. The faded Chinese lettering on the pediment is still visible today. Source: Galt Museum and Archives (P19800127000).

Chinese immigrants faced significant obstacles establishing their lives in Canada. The Chinese Head Tax (first passed in 1885 and subsequently raised twice) made it impossible for all but wealthy Chinese merchants to bring their wives over from China. Way Leong, who would go on to purchase both the Wing Wah Chong and Bow On Tong buildings, had the means bring his wife Florence to Canada in 1921, just two years before the Government of Canada effectively banned further Chinese immigration with the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act (often called the Chinese Exclusion Act). When Way and Florence Leong arrived in Alberta in the 1920s, there were very few Chinese merchant families in the province – one report indicates that there may have been as few as 16 married Chinese couples in Alberta in the 1920s.

Built in 1919, the Bow On Tong Co. Building is a reflection of early twentieth-century Chinese settlement and immigration. It’s also known for its longtime association with the Leong family, who purchased the building back in 1926. For the next 90 years, the Leong family operated an apothecary and Chinese goods importer, as well as hosted social and other activities for the small Chinese community in Lethbridge. Space for social activities was essential for Chinese immigrants in Lethbridge, who could not visit home nor bring their families to Canada due to the Chinese Immigration Act.

Euro-Canadian landlords were generally unwilling to rent commercial space to Chinese merchants. Mob violence and discriminatory bylaws confined Chinese-owned businesses to the western edge of Lethbridge,

Euro-Canadian landlords were generally unwilling to rent commercial space to Chinese merchants. Mob violence and discriminatory bylaws confined Chinese-owned businesses to the western edge of Lethbridge, outside of the downtown core. Source: Galt Museum and Archives (P20151006-990).

Built in 1909, the Wing Wah Chong Co. Building was one of the first commercial structures built along Second Avenue South and is highly significant as a rare example of a pre-World War I Chinese-owned commercial building.

The building was used not just as a commercial space, but also as a residence. Merchants were often the first point of contact for newly-arrived Chinese immigrants, so being able to provide a play to stay (no matter how small) for newcomers was an invaluable service.

The combined uses of the Wing Wah Chong Co. Building – restaurant, retail space, living quarters – are why there is such exceptional heritage value associated with it. It’s a reflection of the socio-economic structure of Chinese-Albertan communities.

For Albert Leong, owner of both buildings, having his properties finally designated as provincial historic resources is a big deal. “It means everything to me to have these buildings and my family home restored. These buildings show how people lived, how I lived, and what my community had to do to live. If they are gone, so will many of the stories of Chinese immigrants in Lethbridge.”

To see more pictures and information about these two important buildings, visit the following pages on the Alberta Register of Historic Places:

Wing Wah Chong Co. Building

Bow On Tong Co. Building

 

Knife River Flint quarries and the Alberta connection

Written by: Emily Moffat, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Stone tools were central to life in pre-contact North America and the rocks that they were made of were highly valued. The archaeological record throughout vast regions of North America, including much of Alberta, contains Knife River Flint (KRF), one of the most significant and intriguing tool stones used before the arrival of Europeans. KRF gets its name from the Knife River, a tributary of the Missouri River that flows through the United States Midwest and Southeast Regions.

In an era of limited human mobility compared to modern times, KRF was regularly transported hundreds of kilometres from its source in North Dakota, where it was quarried for thousands of years. A relatively small geographical region contains the majority of quarry pits and this location is the hub of KRF’s widespread distribution.

Map showing the major source area where Knife River Flint was quarried, the area where scattered cobbles were collected, and the overall extent of Knife River Flint artifacts based on published records. White circles show the extent of archaeological sites in Alberta that have produced a Knife River Flint artifact (Source: Todd Kristensen).

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Municipal Heritage Resource spotlight: Lacombe

Written by: Ron Kelland, MA, MLIS

In June, we featured several buildings that the City of Lethbridge recently designated as Municipal Historic Resources (MHRs). But Lethbridge isn’t the only city that has been actively protecting its heritage resources and listing them on the Alberta Register of Historic Places. Over the past few months, the City of Lacombe has designated five places as MHRs and added them to the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Lacombe has been one of Alberta’s most active communities in protecting its historic places. As an early community in the former Alberta Main Street Program, Lacombe has restored and maintained one of the largest historic downtown cores in the province. As of June 1, 2019, there are six sites in Lacombe designated as Provincial Historic Resources and seven designated as Municipal Historic Resources.

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Flash in the pan: The archaeology of gunflints in Alberta

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Regional Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Did you know that for over 200 years, guns around the world had a specific part made of stone that archaeologists have found evidence of in Alberta? Gunflints are chunks of rock that generated sparks to ignite gunpowder. Their use in guns first appeared in Europe in the early 1600s. Most of Alberta’s earliest guns were muskets, which began replacing bows and arrows in the province in the late 1700s.

Gunflints reveal lots of information about fur trade life in Alberta and they tell archaeologists important details about when guns first arrived and who first brought them. Patterns of gunflints at archaeological sites can show where gun repairs took place or where the flints were stored. Historic records of the number of traded gunflints can tell us which forts were specializing in certain tasks and how many hunters or trappers they were supplying. In general, gunflints are interesting historic artifacts that are often the only preserved record of a weapon technology, flintlock firearms, that ultimately changed the West.

Muskets had a metal piece called the flash pan that was mounted on the outside of the gun and held a small pile of gunpowder protected from wind and rain by a movable lid (a ‘frizzen’). When the trigger was pulled, the gunflint pushed the frizzen, opened the flash pan, and created a spark. A small explosion of gunpowder on the outside of the gun (the ‘flash in the pan’) was then sent through a hole to a larger load of powder inside the musket barrel. This explosion then launched the musket ball towards future food or enemies.

Diagram of how flintlock guns worked (by Todd Kristensen).

Flintlock guns were used in North America before 1650, and, in parts of the West, gunflints were used well into the late 1800s. While a technology called percussion caps began replacing the flintlock in the mid-1800s in North America, guns were still hard to come by and flintlocks had a certain durability that kept them in use.

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Along the Riplinger Trail aka Riplinger Road

Written by: Ken Favrholdt, BA, MA (Geography, UBC)

Much is written about the Whoop-Up Trail, the famous 320 kilometre route from Fort Benton, Montana to Fort Macleod used by whisky traders between 1869 and 1874.

However, there was also another important route used during this period. The Riplinger Trail was an Indigenous trail across traditional Blackfoot territory and home of the Blood tribe. Part of the trail in Montana it is believed, was part of the Old North Trail, the ancient migration route—the so-called ice-free corridor—along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Riplinger Trail was named after John Riplinger of the Northwestern Fur Company who built a post on the Marias River in Montana in 1869-70.

geological map of the region in the vicinity of the Bow and Belly Rivers, by George Dawson, 1884,
Part of the geological map of the region in the vicinity of the Bow and Belly Rivers, by George Dawson, 1884, showing the Riplinger Trail between Fort Macleod and the 49th parallel. Source: collections.leventhalmap.org.

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