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‘This was my father’s focus: keep Chinatown alive’: Vancouver business icon Jack Chow dead at 90

Businessman and pillar of Vancouver’s Chinese community Jack Wing Chow has died at the age of 90, according to his family.

Chow died on Feb. 9 of natural causes.

“He was most proud of being in Chinatown and serving the Chinese community, not just the neighbourhood of Chinatown, but also people from all over Vancouver would actually come down here,” his son Rod Chow told Global News.

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Brother and sister revamp family food business and create a sensation – Feb 10, 2021

“He was always involved in different leadership positions in Chinatown, too, to make sure Chinatown continued to be a very bustling commercial area … all these years and this was my father’s focus: keep Chinatown alive.”

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Chow was born in Cumberland on Vancouver Island, before moving to Vancouver as a teenager. After starting his career as a realtor, he opened his family insurance business in 1962.

That business led to the eventual purchase in the mid-1980s of two iconic locations that sit kittycorner at Pender and Carrall streets and remain defining features of historic Chinatown.

The “World Famous” building, with its iconic, animated neon sign, at four-feet ten-inches deep is actually recognized as the world’s shallowest commercial building by the Guinness Book of Records.

Chow expended significant resources restoring the dilapidated 1913 building, including restoring the glass sidewalk out front, a project that involved ensuring it could hold the weight of a fire truck, Rod said.

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“He had to make a special application to city council and everything to get that done. And basically, at that point in time, it was the first rehabilitation of a glass sidewalk in over 50 years to be authorized,” he said.

And the glass blocks are here today. And even more spectacular because it’s an essential part of our lighted glass sidewalk show that goes on every single day.”

Another historic renovation at the building turned out to be a pandemic life-saver for the business, Rod said.

More than two decades ago, Chow spent six years getting approval to install sidewalk-facing service windows in the building — calling back to the way business was once done in the narrow structure.

Read more: New height limits in Vancouver’s Chinatown approved by city council

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At first, few people made use of the windows because they loved accessing the interior of the unique structure, Rod said.

“But once the pandemic hit, they basically kept us in business — his foresight paid off,” Rod said.

“We didn’t have to shut one single day because we had safe service already set up — they’re socially distanced enough so that we can actually have four people served at the same time.”

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Vancouver’s Historic Chinatown underwent massive change over Chow’s lifetime, including growing levels of crime and disorder.

Rod said his father remained convinced to the end that the area could be revitalized.

“What his thought was, was the more people that we have, then we’re not going to have the safety issues, the crime issues — we need to bring people back to Chinatown,” Rod said.

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“That was this whole concept: people, people, people, people. It’s always that. And you want people to come back, so you have to give them good service.”

Jack Chow was laid to rest in a private service on Saturday.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jean, along with his four children, Rod, Reginald, Barbara and Debra, as well as seven grandchildren.

The family says donations can be made in his name to the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation.

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