Years before the arrival of James Brooke, Cantonese migrants had begun to settle in the wild country that would one day become Kuching. Pioneers such as Lau Chek (刘直), who had arrived in the 1830s, sought to organise a clan association to bring together their countrymen from Guangzhou (Canton), Huizhou and Zhaoqing. The Kwong Wai Siew Association was founded in 1854, the first of its kind in Sarawak.
In accordance with the Societies Order introduced by the Sarawak Government, the association became a registered society in 1914. It was based at No. 12 Carpenter Street, said to be a gift from the second Rajah in 1873. To cope with growing needs, a third storey was added to the original shophouse in 1917. In 1918, the ground floor of the association was converted into the classrooms of the newly-founded Yik Kwan School (益群学校). After the Second World War, Yik Kwan joined with other Chinese-language schools to form the Kuching Chung Hua Schools. Also in 1946, the association was changed to its current name.
The association building on Carpenter Street houses a shrine of Kuan Ti (or Guan Di, 关帝) and is often referred to as Kuan Ti Temple (关帝庙) by the Cantonese. On the centenary of Kwong Wai Siew Association in 1953, the association established a lion dance troupe that remains one of the most notable of its kind in Kuching.