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Page last updated November 27, 2016

© Michael Kluckner

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Written/painted in 2004: The remains of one of BC's historic Chinatowns.
Because of a dispute between the Shuswap & Okanagan Railway and a landowner a mile to the north, Armstrong became established on the "Island," the sandbank in the middle distance with swamps and sloughs on both sides. The railway line and the town's main buildings were established on this high ground along today's Pleasant Valley Road. Once the swamps in the foreground and on the far side of the "Island" were drained, Chinese farmers took them over, turning the flats into neatly cultivated vegetable fields and earning Armstrong its nickname Celery City. The dark brown wooden cabins along the road (Okanagan Street) midway across the flats, painted in January 2004, are the last survivors of a group that provided accommodation during the growing season for the field workers.

In the wintertime, the workers lived in a bunkhouse arrangement on the upper floor of the Lee Bak Bong Building which stands, together with another similar but altered one, on Okanagan Street on the edge of the flats on the far side of the "Island." The main floor was a grocery store and vegetable distribution centre. Built by Mah Yick using the last of the output from the Armstrong brickyard, the building was erected in 1922 following a fire that destroyed much of the original Chinatown. The painted sign of the Kwong Wing On & Co., which rented the building from Mah Yick for a few years until the Lee family bought it, is still faintly visible on the brick facade. After living in Victoria for a few years, Lee Bak Bong returned to China in 1910 to marry, then moved to Armstrong; 10 years later, he was able to pay the $500 head tax to get his wife into Canada, and because of the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923 Mrs. Lee was for decades the only Chinese woman in Armstrong. Their vegetable wholesale operation was called Wing Quong & Co., after the two eldest sons of the Lee family. The survivors of the Lees' seven sons and four daughters, including Ben Lee of Kelowna, now own the building which has been vacant for nearly 30 years. The flats have grown up in sedge and weeds.

(See Johnny Serra, Armstrong Packing Houses, Okanagan Historical Society, 28th report, 1964; Peter Critchley, The Chinese in Armstrong, OHS, 63rd report, 1999; Armstrong Heritage Inventory, 2001. Thanks to Lisa Mori, curator, Armstrong-Spallumcheen Museum-Archives.)

From Dudley Price, 2014: Just a quick note from Armstrong to let you know that despite attempts to preserve this building Armstrong council was instrumental in having it demolished last year. History vanishing. Nothing has gone up in its place (other than a "for sale" sign) – the powers-that-be figured that it was just a derelict old unsafe building and no amount of historical significance was able to save it. I don't even think the owner's family cared one way or the other. If I get a chance to look up the relevant articles in the Armstrong Advertiser I will forward them to you.

Photo from Randy Glen:

Note the Microcosm Photo site with pictures of the building.


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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001, 2002, 2003