Apr. 21, 2016 – Vancouver Sun (with Video)
When architect Joe Wai got a look at some of the classical gardens that dotted the landscape of China’s Suzhou City, he knew right away that his hometown of Vancouver would benefit from a similar space.
“We went to Suzhou and I couldn’t believe what was in store,” Wai said of the 1975 trip. “I said to our guys, our group, ‘We have to have one.’ Easy to say.”
Wai, along with Donald Vaughan and Wang Zu-Xin, designed the beloved Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown, which will celebrate its 30thanniversary on Saturday.
Named after Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925), a popular Chinese revolutionary who developed the Three Principles of the People political philosophy and fought to modernize China in the early 1900s, the garden was built completely by hand (no power tools, screws or glues).
The garden covers about a third of an acre and holds 160 different plant species, including a collection of penjing (tray scenery) trees, some of which are more than 200 years old.
When asked what makes him the happiest about the garden, Wai didn’t hesitate.
“It’s here. That’s No. 1. We didn’t think it was possible,” he said.
To make it possible — and in time for Expo 86 — 53 craftsmen from China with 950 boxes of materials were brought to the city. The project took a year to complete.
“It is the authenticity of the garden, opposed to the Canadian or American version of Chinese cuisine,” said Wai. “It’s not chow mein.”
At the end of the day, Wai said, the full garden area cost around $7 million. He estimates that bill would easily balloon to around $50 million today.
Named by National Geographic as the top city garden in 2012, it’s run by the non-profit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden Society of Vancouver and is completely self-sustaining, said Matthew Halverson, the incoming president of the garden’s board of trustees.
“It’s a garden, but it is also a community centre. It’s an art gallery. It’s a museum. It’s all these things,” said Halverson. “Through all those different programming aspects, I think it has a real importance for local people.”
And that importance grows every day as heritage homes are being torn down and glass towers erected faster than you can say, “Pre-sale is sold out.”
“The face of Vancouver has really changed. It has gone vertical,” said Halverson. “The role of the garden, in my mind, is it offers something that is becoming increasingly important … a calming space in this ever-hectic world.”
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden at 30 years
Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend.