Ming Sun building's fate uncertain

The City of Vancouver is tearing down one wall of the historic Ming Sun building in the 400-block of Powell Street, but the rest of the building will be left intact — for now.

“Once that is done we will revisit the situation to see what the structural conditions are below the side of the brick that’s falling off the side of the building,” said Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver’s deputy city manager.

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This has given the Ming Sun Benevolent Society, which owns the building, a few more days to come up with a plan to save the building.

“If they are unable to do that, the demolition will proceed after that,” said Johnston.

The building, which encompasses 437-441 Powell St. is one of the 20 oldest buildings in Vancouver, and was once owned by a prominent Japanese-Canadian family.

On Nov. 15 the city had ordered the demolition of the building based on public safety concerns. The Ming Sun Benevolent Society later asked for it to be preserved because of its heritage value.

The city gave the society until Monday, Dec. 9 to address the safety concerns of the brick wall on the west side of the building. On Tuesday, Dec. 10, city crews set up scaffolding to begin removing bricks from the west wall and chimney.

Tom Chow, the owner of Double Happiness Foods, located on the west side of the Ming Sun building, said the east wall of the Ming Sun building collapsed in July. Chow sent a report to the city concerning the safety of the brick wall.

“If it happened to the eastern wall it could happen to the western wall,” he said.

David Wong, spokesperson for the Ming Sun Benevolent Society, said the Ming Sun building was damaged by the demolition of another building, on the east side, on July 24.

Johnston denied these claims, and said the east wall of the Ming Sun building fell onto the neighbouring building.

“This building is decrepit and completely unmaintained,” said Johnston.

The residents of the Ming Sun building, and the Instant Coffee Artist Collective which occupied the storefront space, had to vacate the building after the demolition of the neighbouring building.

David Wong said that the empty building has been subject to what he believes is deliberate vandalism over the past few months.

“Whoever is doing the vandalism is targeting the vandalism.”

On Tuesday evening, after city crews began preparing to take down the west wall, sprinkler pipes in the building burst, causing flooding.


Wong called the flooding “suspicious,” and said the sprinklers had been drained last fall.

Meanwhile the future of the Ming Sun building remains in question.

Wong said he hopes the Ming Sun Benevolent Society and the City of Vancouver can reach an agreement to preserve the building.

“We want to work with the city because this is a very historically significant building.”

James Johnstone, a house history researcher in Vancouver, is critical of the city’s approach to the Ming Sun building.

“Vision’s name — Vision — just seems to not ring true, because they have no vision with regards to heritage in the city. It’s not just a little old building, it’s got lots to teach us.”

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