Yip Sang (1845-1927)

Pioneer of Vancouver, Merchant, founder of Wing Sang Company

Yip Sang (his real name was Yip Chun Tien) played a pioneering role in British Columbia’s early history. He founded the Wing Sang Company, one of Vancouver’s most important import export businesses whose legacy still stands as the oldest building in Chinatown.

Yip Sang was born on September 6, 1845 in Guangdong (Canton), China. In 1864 at age 19, Yip sailed from China to California where he worked as a dishwasher and a cook. Seventeen years later, he came to Vancouver where he settled in Chinatown in 1881. In 1882, he was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Supply Company, where he worked as a bookkeeper, timekeeper, paymaster and then as the Chinese superintendent. Yip spoke fluent English and practiced plural marriage. On a trip back to China in 1885 he married and had two children, but his wife (Lee Shee) died. Over the years he married another three times (Dong Shee, Wong Shee, and Chin Shee) and had another 21 children. In 1901 he brought his three wives and all twenty-three children to Vancouver.

Yip Sang began his career in Vancouver selling coal door to door. On his return from China he founded the Wing Sang Company in 1888 and one year later built the first part of the historic Wing Sang building located at 51-67 East Pender Street. This company grew to become one of the region’s largest import export businesses. In addition to distributing canned goods and lumber throughout the Asia-Pacific region, it also supplied the Canadian Pacific Railway with a large contingent of its labour force. It was also an important point of contact for correspondence for workers who had family members in China.

Yip Sang figured prominently in Vancouver’s Chinese community. In addition to his successful business, he also helped to create the Vancouver branch of Chinese Benevolent Association; the Chinese Board of Trade and the Chinese Hospital. He was also appointed a life governor of Vancouver General Hospital. Yip Sang died in Vancouver on July 20, 1927 leaving a legacy of family, community service and business accomplishments.

Biography by Raymond Reitsma