Updated: Jan 9, 2022
Touchstones Nelson recently posted a photo of the wedge-shaped building at 606 Front Street their Flickr account. It doesn’t look like much today, and looked like even less in the 1960s or ‘70s when that photo was taken. Today it has a vaguely Tudor-style look to it, and I always imagined it dated to the 1940s or ‘50s. Wrong.
It turns out this not-so-stunning building is actually of high historic value: it’s one of only three surviving buildings from Chinatown. (The others are the Kootenay Co-op Radio building at 308A Hall St., which was once a laundry, and the house next door, which was formerly a store.)
According to a recently-completed statement of significance, this building was constructed in 1900 by Chinese Canadians as a store and residence. In 1901, three people were listed as separately residing in the building in a total of 13 rooms. From about 1912 to 1930, the building was owned by local businessman Hing Man, whose company operated a Chinese grocery and dry goods store at 610 Front.
Around 1914, 606 Front housed the Long Jack and Co. tailoring business. That year, Long Jack and Charlie Chong (or Chong Ching) were charged with sexually assaulting a young girl in Nelson.
While in the city lock-up, one of Long Jack’s friends arrived with a bottle for him. It was found to contain opium. The friend, who was not named, was charged with drug possession. He “stated that he knew Long Jack used the contents of the bottle quite frequently and thought that he might want it during his confinement.” But he pleaded ignorance as to its contents and was allowed to go “after a severe reprimand” from the judge.
After two hours of deliberation, a jury found Chong Ching guilty of “seduction,” despite doubts raised by Chief Justice Hunter, who according to the Daily News of May 23, 1914, called the testimony of May Radcliffe and Celia Lang “a tissue of contradictions and improbabilities.”
He also exhorted the jurors not to allow any prejudice to rest in their minds during their deliberations for racial reasons. If there was any prejudice in the minds of the jurors it might bring justice into the worthy contempt of all mankind, he said.
Chong Ching was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Long Jack, meanwhile, was released on $3,000 bail until his trial in November. While few details were reported, the jury found him not guilty. A second charge was stayed by the Crown as it was based on the same evidence.
Chong Ching stood trial at the same time on another related charge but was also found not guilty. The last sign of Long Jack in Nelson is in January 1916 when he was fined $25 for smoking opium in a house on Front Street.
Long Jack and Co. is listed at 606 Front in the 1914 street directory, but there is no listing for the building in 1915.
Photos of Front Street are hard to come by from any era, and one of the only pictures of the building I could find from this era is on a 1914 postcard, which shows the back and roof, plus several other buildings that don’t exist anymore.
Here is another view from an exhibit in the stairwell of the CPR station:
More from the statement of significance:
From 1930 through to the mid-1970s the building was used as a rooming house, often frequented by Chinese-Canadians. During this period the building was owned by the Yugoslav-born Maras family. An addition was constructed at the rear of the building with records indicating that Joe Maras was the building contractor for the work carried out in 1940.
In 1953 and 1955, the next years for which street-by-street listings are available, the directories just said “Orientals” under this address, their actual names being deemed unimportant.
In an aerial shot from 1961, the building is unfortunately completely obscured by a black bar through the middle of the photo.
According to the statement of significance, it was in the late 1970s that the
building’s appearance was changed from a plain white stucco design to a black and white Tudoresque exterior.
At this time the local electrical wholesaling and carpet businessman Ron Allen operated from the building … From 1979 to 1987 the building was home to two law practice firms – Enderton Kent, and then Blair Suffredine.
The view below, taken by Al Peterson, is from around 1979:
So we see the building called the Star Chamber, a sly nod to the law firm operating there. (Wikipedia tells us the Star Chamber was an English court which sat at the royal Palace of Westminster from the late 15th century to the mid-17th century.)
There is also a barely-visible remnant of a sign for Ronald Allen Interiors, which had by this time moved across the street to what is now the Front Street Emporium.
By 1989, 606 Front was vacant. The following year Van Hellemond Sporte Ltd. moved in, a sport uniform, textile imprinting and engraving business founded and operated by Arlene and Bruce Van Hellemond. It had a number of outlets around the Kootenays for over 40 years. Their awning still hangs on the building although they have not been there since 2013. The photo below was taken by Henry Stevenson in 1992.
In recent years the building has been home to Terry’s Barber Shop, By the Way Hair Salon, and the Nelson Cannabis Compassion Club, among other things.
Updated on Sept. 25, 2019 to add the photo of the building in the 1970s. Updated Jan. 16, 2020 to add details from the statement of significance and details of the trial of Long Jack. Updated on Jan. 9, 2022 to add the 1992 photo.