1905 / 1939 / 1961

The Lee Association first constructed a similar bungalow in 1905, and then renovated it in 1960.

The Chinese Public School was first housed in this depicted bungalow in 1939.

In between the two bungalows was another home.

WITH RON LEE (English Secretary of the Lee's Association)

+ What’s your story? How long have you been involved in Chinatown and what was Chinatown like then?
I’m from Lethbridge; I became involved with the Calgary Lee Benevolent Association in 2010 because they needed someone with English speaking skills to organize and celebrate the 100th Anniversary of association. I developed a website for the 100th Anniversary celebrations.

My grandfather came in 1905 and was sponsored by the railroad workers.When the Chinese laborers came to Canada to build the railroad, they had to supply their own food, clothing and shelter. In the urban centers, the Chinese lived in ghettos on land nobody wanted. The Chinese brought their kinship system from their villages which was recognized in their Chinatowns.  There were four societies—The Fong, The Benevolent Association, The Mutual Aid Society and The Secret Society.  The Fong was known as a headquarters that acted as a maildrop where the workers could register to write and receive letters from China as well as forward money back to support their family. The Benevolent Association was composed of members with the same last surname who came from the home counties in Guangdong province that provided lodging and employment.

Ron Lee at the Lee's Association space, 2020

The Mutual Aid society was like a credit union that provided members with loans to start a business. The Secret Society was a political association committed to the overthrow of the Ching Dynasty.  Workers could belong to all of these associations. The association buildings were used for meetings and socializing.

+ When was this building constructed?
The 1905 building was the third time that Calgary Chinatown was relocated. With the previous two Chinatown locations, the land became more valuable and the city simply made the Chinese move. Where the Lee Association stands now was empty land, and they built the original building around 1905. The old building was 2-story, with a ground floor meeting space for the Association, with bachelor apartments upstairs. These were rented out to people from our village. It was also used as a school. The Lee Association was a Benevolent Association for Lee members who came from the four counties and the building was funded by member donations. The bachelor apartments were rented to Lee members who had recently arrived from China and association members would help them to find employment. At the time, Chinese were not allowed to live outside of Chinatown.

It was then rebuilt in 1960 as a meeting place, a Chinese School and bachelor apartments on the second floor.

Bowside Manor (where we’re located today) was completed around 1979.  The current Lee Association is attached to the front of Bowside Manor.

The Lee Association building in March, 1966

+ Who are the current tenants and users of this building?
There are 10 members on the board, and there are men and women members, though I would say that the Lee Association is still a patriarchal association. There are approximately 200 members.

Here, we have tai chi class, karaoke, line dancing and annual dinners. There is a Taoist Shrine which features a reproduction portrait of Lao Tzu and the names of the founding fathers from different villages from the four counties.

+ What was on this land before this building was built? How was the land acquired?
It was empty land…The land was paid for by donations from Benevolent Association members.


+ Can you tell me a little bit about the history behind its design development and construction? 
What was the decision behind the building’s design?
We always wanted to have a meeting room– a social meeting place which could also be used for a mail drop — and temporary lodging.

The center was always used to help find employment, and the rent was always low and kept affordable…

George Ho Lem told the city council that he could convince the other two associations to build Bowside Manor for Chinese seniors. He created the Calgary Chinatown Development Foundation (CCDF) and promised that if the buildings were put up for collateral, then mortgaged for 45 years… but CCDF asked them to willingly sign over their rights. “Helping out” is the philosophy of a benevolent association. The Lee Association is now entitled to 1/3 of the rent after paying off the mortgage for forty-five years.

The Lee Association

The Lee Association is now housed within a ground floor unit of Bowside Manor.


This house was converted into the Chinese Public School, beginning in the 1920s-1930s. The building was demolished in the late 1970s and the school reopened in the Bowside Manor complex in 1980. 


+ When was this building constructed?
In 1978, we started discussions to provide subsidized housing for low-income citizens and new immigrants. It was to provide 88 units (bachelor, 1, 2, 3-bedroom units). Construction finished in 1980. 

There are 10 stories and one lower level parking area. The main floor is commercial, and the second floor has a common area (part of it is shared with the Chinese Public School). The 3rd – 10th floors are residential. 

+ Who are the current tenants and users of this building?
In Bowside Manor, there’s a grandfather clause that maintains 20-something subsidized units. Everyone else is on current market rates, and these are newcomers. The subsidy came from the federal government, and the 3 parties decided when it would have been time to go to market rate. 

+ What was on this land before this building was built? How was the land acquired?
The land was owned by three partners: The Lee Association, the Chinese Public School and the Calgary Chinese Development Foundation. (The third lot in between the properties was owned by The City and we bought the lot from The City.)

The Calgary Chinese Development Foundation started with about 10 people, the same folks as Sien Lok Society. There are currently 8 board members. We applied for a grant from the federal government and had 35 years of mortgage. 


+ Do you know of any major renovations or changes to the building since it was first constructed?
The main structure hasn’t changed — it’s all concrete. 


The Lee Association, the Calgary Chinese Public School and the Calgary Chinatown Development Foundation are all housed on the first floors of Bowside Manor.