Yip Sang, an entrepreneur, community leader and philanthropist, was born in Shengtang village, Guangdong province, China in 1845. He emigrated first to San Francisco in 1864, then traveled north to British Columbia in 1881, following the gold rush. There he gained employment with the Kwong On Wo Company as a Chinese foreman on the Canadian Pacific Railway line.
After the completion of the railway, Yip Sang settled in Vancouver, B.C. His connections with the CPR eventually led to his recruitment by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company as a Chinese passenger agent. He founded the Wing Sang Company in 1888 (the name was changed by his children after his death to the Yip Sang Company), initially an importing and exporting business. The Yip family home and business at 51 Pender Street became an iconic building in Vancouver’s Chinatown as many Chinese Vancouverites would visit the building to buy goods, to reserve tickets for a CPR steamship crossing, or to deposit their money in the Wing Sang Company branch of a Hong Kong-based trust company, for example. The Yips also acted as unofficial postmasters for the Chinese community, ensuring letters to and from family at home in China arrived.
Yip Sang was also renowned in the Vancouver Chinese community for his philanthropic work. He was instrumental in the foundation of Vancouver’s first Chinese school and first Chinese hospital, and the Chinese Benevolent Association. A believer in the importance of health, education and community leadership, Yip Sang was involved with hospitals, schools and political organizations in both Canada and China. He married four times, had 23 children who became leaders in business and the professions, and 67 grandchildren. By the end of his life in 1927 Yip Sang was a highly respected Vancouver citizen and the “unofficial mayor” of Chinatown.
Archival material of the Yip family members and the Yip Sang Company was entrusted to Dr. Wallace Chung by a Yip family member when the building at 51 Pender Street was undergoing renovations in the 1990s. Now part of the Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection, this material includes business records reflecting all the activities of the Yip Sang Company, including records of passengers aboard CPR ships, and personal records such photographs, correspondence, diaries, and other documents. More archival material of the Yip family can be found at the City of Vancouver Archives.