A fire in a downtown Lethbridge heritage building Tuesday caused a significant loss to the community’s history and culture, according to the president of the historical society. Belinda Crowson says the Bow On Tong building on 2nd Ave. S was built in 1919 and was both a provincial and municipal heritage building. It is in an area that was once known as Chinatown and Crowson adds it is not the first loss the area has seen.
“We are losing a huge part of our history by losing this building,” she says. “Buildings are the tangible link we have to our history and so they stand there as the story and when you are looking at the Chinese community, one of the reasons that Chinatown existed at all is that there was actually a bylaw passed by the city that moved the laundries into that areas and they primarily meant the Chinese laundries and over time they forced many of the Chinese businesses into that area — safety in numbers, people moved there to be in an area where they knew they had some security.”
The building has been vacant since the previous owner, who was a life-long resident until the age of 80, sold it in 2021.
Crowson says Bow On Tong was a rare apothecary in the 1920s and it was also home to many Lethbridge residents over the decades.
Leelah Aheer served as minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women when the building was designated as a provincial historic site in 2019. She says Albertans have always recognized the importance because the province is built on multiple cultures.
“Multiculturalism in Alberta is really important and it is a driving factor for how we have built our businesses and why our immigrant societies are so important and why people actually move here,” she says. “The cultural significance of these buildings is actually, it’s not a look into our past — it’s actually a look into our future about where we want to go and how it is that we honour the people who helped build our initial economies.”
Investigation into the Tuesday morning fire at Bow On Tong is ongoing.