Chinatown: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden finding place in history

Friday, January 31st, 2014

National designation sought

Sandra Thomas
Van. Courier

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and adjoining park are one step closer to being listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places thanks to a statement of significance from the park board.

Jeannette Hlavach, a board member of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden Society, said the city must first add the attraction to the Vancouver Heritage Register. Support from the park board means a lot towards achieving that goal.

“Chinatown was added to the Canadian Register of Historic Places in 2011,” said Hlavach, a former heritage planner for the City of Vancouver. “That was very important.”

Hlavach was involved with that effort, as well as the Millennium Gate and Keefer Memorial Square projects.

The garden was created in time for Expo ‘86 to celebrate Vancouver being the twin city to Suzhou, China, and for 15 years Sun Yat-Sen was the only one like it in the world outside of China. The garden is named after Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, a nationalist leader considered by many to be the “father of modern China.”

According to the garden’s history, he stayed in Vancouver for three extended visits while travelling the world raising money and support for the Chinese nationalist movement. The large number of Chinese nationalists who lived in Vancouver helped finance the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1911. Sun Yat-Sen became the first president of the Republic of China.

Funding for the garden came from the provincial, Canadian and Chinese governments, as well as Vancouver’s Chinese community. Later, when more money was needed, organizers turned to the city’s affluent West Siders and businesses.

Architects Joe Wai and Donald Vaughan designed the outer park, while architect Wang Zu-Xin conceived the inner garden with help from the Landscape Architecture Company of Suzhou.

In total, 52 master craftsmen travelled to Vancouver from China to create the attraction modelled after a scholar’s garden from the Ming Dynasty, which dates back to the 15th century.

The men brought with them 950 crates of materials and constructed the garden using traditional methods, which excluded the use of glue, screws or power tools.

In 2011, National Geographic listed the attraction as one of the top 10 city gardens in the world, and in 2012 it was named Canadian Garden of the Year by the Canadian Garden Tourism Council.

Hlavach said the fact the garden is somewhat hidden makes those awards more special. She added Ming Dynasty-style gardens are extremely complex and typically aren’t as manicured or picturesque as gardens found in Japan, France or England.

“They can look a little higgledy-piggledy, but then you realize there’s a symmetry to them,” said Hlavach. “There are small details worked in and the idea of yin and yang plays heavily so every time you see something round, somewhere nearby will be something angular.”

Hlavach said that same principle applies when smooth items are combined with rough and dark with light.
“It’s the universe in harmony,” said Hlavach.

Hlavach explained because the garden will be “listed” a heritage site rather than “designated,” means it will be business as usual when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the attraction.

Once the city lists the garden on the Heritage Register, the next step is for the provincial government to recommend it for the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

“There’s a long road ahead of us, but being added to that list will raise our profile,” said Hlavach. “We want the garden to become an attraction for tourists and some people do plan their itineraries around national historic sites.”

© Vancouver Courier

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