OI KWAN FOUNDATION - WAI KWAN MANOR
Architects: Michael H.K. Wong Architects
1911 / 1961
Schematic rendering of the residential buildings that stood here, according to the footprints indicated on the 1911 and 1961 fire insurance maps.
WITH FRANK LAM (CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER OF THE WAI KWAN MANOR) &
ANDY CHAN (BUILDING MAINTENANCE)
+ Who are you, and how long have you been involved with this building and in Chinatown?
Frank Lam: I’ve managed the bldg for 2-1/2 years, and was involved with the Chinese United Church in Chinatown since 1982. I was born and raised in Singapore and went to university in Ontario.
Andy Chan — I’m from Hong Kong. I’ve worked and lived as a maintenance staff in the Oi Kwan Foundation since 1997. My son was born here.
+ Who are the current occupants within this building?
They’re all seniors. There are two main reasons why people move to the building — either lost mobility (to difficult to go up and down stairs at their childrens’ homes), or they live by themselves and can’t manage their homes. Sometimes, their children have retired and are downsizing their homes.
+ When was this building constructed?
Ho Lem was instrumental in the development of the Oi Kwan Foundation.
It was completed in 1985, and then opened for application.
This is subsidized housing; public housing that’s owned by the Province. The Oi Kwan Foundation manages the project. The first project was “Oi Kwan Place”, now known as the first building of Clover Living (land was owned by the Chinese United Church). Then perhaps 10-20 years later, they decided to embark on another project. Alberta had lots of money from the oil boom and were willing to invest in these kinds of projects.
At the time, they were building lots of senior housing across Alberta; there was a need to take care of the future aging population. This project was initiated by the Oi Kwan Foundation. The government supported the proposal and provided funding.
+ What was on this land before this building was built?
How was the land acquired?
There were old houses, not commercial, but residential buildings.
When the building was built, the land was owned by the government, though it’s not clear how they acquired it.
+ Can you tell me about the history behind the building’s design development and about the construction process?
The building has 15 floors, plus 2 underground parking garages. We’re not entirely sure about the design process. Inside, the Main Hall has a circular entryway. On the exterior, you can see the Chinese characters on the north side. The south side has a building blocking that side. The canopy has a pitched Asian motif. It’s made of red brick, which is typical of government buildings. There is also a garden down below. The community garden was developed by Frank. The seniors are outside in the summertime. The community Garden in the Rebecca House on 2nd and13th is a similar, comparable house.
+ Do you know of any major renovations or changes to the building since it was first constructed?
We recently renovated the Main Hall, because the building was old. We changed the tile and carpet.
We’ve also changed the security. Before, a lot of people from the general public came inside in the winter to warm up in the lobby. There used to be just one door, but now we have interlocking doors. The entrance and exits are different. I believe this happened in 1992/1993. The layout is the same as the Hong Kong banking system — this was Andy’s idea.
As mentioned before, the Community Garden was developed by Frank in 2018-2019. While the planters were already there, the weeds were cleared, they cleaned it up and opened the garden. Initially we had about 9 plots, but now there are around 16-17 plots. This is the FIRST Chinatown community garden…
+ What was Chinatown like in the 1980s and 1990s?
Frank: In the 1980s, it was very dweeby… it wasn’t really what I expected. I thought it was really small, but it was very safe. I used to go often to Jade Garden (on top of the Far East Shopping Centre) but it’s closed down now. I also went to the Hong Kong Garden; on the second floor, they used to have a good dim sum restaurant in the 1980s that was part of the new building.
Andy: In the 1990s, I was a mail order groom. Then, the job at Oi Kwan Foundation needed a live-in employee. Compared with HK, the apartment was so much bigger, with access to outdoor areas at the park.
+ Who built this building?
According to the building drawings from 1983:
Michael H.K. Wong Architects Ltd.
OI KWAN FOUNDATION - WAI KWAN MANOR
This drawing set was photographed in early 2020, courtesy of the Oi Kwan Foundation – Wai Kwan Manor.
CURRENT DAY BUILDING PHOTOGRAPHS
SUBTITLE ( WITH CAROL POON, XYZ)
Photographs taken in 2020.