Joe Y. Wai: 1940–2017

Jan 30, 2017

We are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our alumnus, Joe Y. Wai, a gentleman, community activist, and an architect of great consequence. Joe made countless contributions to Vancouver. In the late 1960s, he joined architect Bud Wood on the restoration report for Gastown and Chinatown. He went on to design many of Chinatown’s landmarks: the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum & Archives, Heritage Alley/Han Dynasty Bell, the Chinese Freemasons Building restoration, and the Millennium Gate—landmarks that would likely not exist if Joe and fellow activists had not blocked a proposed freeway. Among his other works was the award-winning Skwachàys Healing Lodge for the Vancouver Native Housing Society. In 2016, Joe received an AIBC Lifetime Achievement Award for his many significant contributions.

Joe served on the SALA Advisory Board from 2012 to 2015, making a major contribution by emphatically encouraging our school to play a significant role in preserving our West Coast Modern architectural heritage. It is at his encouragement that the school is publishing an ongoing series of building monographs that document, publicize, and, in the best cases, help preserve these important houses.

With his passing, Vancouver has lost a gentle and thoughtful advocate for community building who was most concerned with the long-term impact of his work. We extend our sincerest condolences to Joe’s wife Lynn and son Jonathan, and to those who had the pleasure of working with him for so many years.

A public memorial reception will be held on Sunday, February 5, from 2 to 5 p.m. in the main hall of the Chinese Cultural Centre at 50 East Pender Street. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Joe’s name to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden online or at the Chinese Cultural Centre.