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Coordinates: 48°25′46″N 123°22′04″W / 48.429364°N 123.367909°W / 48.429364; -123.367909

Victoria's Chinatown gate, known as The Gates of Harmonious Interest.
One of the stone lions that guard the gate at Chinatown in Victoria.
View into Fan Tan Alley.

Although there are many places of the same name, the Chinatown in Victoria, British Columbia is the oldest in Canada and second only to San Francisco in North America. Its history goes back to the mid nineteenth century. It remains a unique place for Chinese-Canadians, Victoria residents and tourists alike.

Contents

History

The discovery of gold in the Fraser Canyon in 1858 led an increase in immigration to British Columbia. The Gold Rush was only one reason many Chinese citizens immigrated. Famine, drought or war in their homeland also encouraged the voyage across the Pacific Ocean to Victoria (on the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island en route to the Barkerville area). The majority of the population was from South China, in the Guangdong Province. Some also came from California, where a previous gold frenzy had taken place. Later, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway would continue to bring Chinese workers. It was mostly men who immigrated, but if they could make enough money, they would send for their family.

Initially a collection of crude wooden huts, Victoria's Chinatown rapidly evolved into a dense neighbourhood of businesses, theatres, schools, churches, temples and a hospital. It did gain a dark reputation however, because of opium factories, gambling dens and brothels. Chinatown grew steadily over the years until its peak in 1911, at which time it occupied an area of about six city blocks in the north end of downtown Victoria.[1] This area included two blocks of Herald Street, two blocks of Fisgard Street, and two blocks of old Cormorant Street. The block between Store Street and Government Street has since been renamed Pandora Avenue, and the block between Government Street and Douglas Street is part of Centennial Square.[1]

In 1911, Victoria's Chinatown housed 3,158 people,[1] , almost more than the entire population downtown Victoria (including Chinatown and Harris Green) in 2001.[2]

Victoria's Chinatown suffered a period of decline between the 1920s and the 1970s, shrinking dramatically both in size and in population. In the 1980s, significant revitalization efforts were undertaken, most notably the construction of the Gate of Harmonious Interest on Fisgard Street (at Government). Ongoing revitalization over the years has included the introduction of coffee shops, cafes, studios, and workshops, as well as a small condominium development in Dragon Alley.[3] [4]

Today's Chinatown

Victoria's revitalized Chinatown is a popular area for tourists as well as the artistic community. The focus is the 500-600 block of Fisgard Street, including famously narrow Fan Tan Alley, the old Chinese School and a small selection of historic buildings and Chinese businesses. Many historic buildings have been well preserved in Chinatown and also in the larger area it once occupied along Government Street, Herald Street, Store Street, and Pandora Avenue. The modern Chinatown continues to be a key component of Downtown Victoria with many tourist attractions, hotels, bars, restaurants, theatres, services, and shopping areas nearby. The district is a designation National Historic Site which was tentatively proposed as a World Heritage Site.[2]

Some of the "tourist attractions" of Chinatown are the previously mentioned Fan Tan Alley (originally a private walkway, now home to a retail shops), and its ornate gate. The Gate of Harmonious Interest was built in Suzhou, one of Victoria's sister cities.

Many of Chinatown's most historical and important places are out of public view, like the Tam Kung Buddhist Temple, which is the oldest of its kind in Canada. For curious tourists there are guidebooks designed to educate travelers on the history of the neighbourhood and a recently published art/history book of photographs of Chinatown's best kept secrets. Inside Chinatown features photos by Victoria resident Robert Amos and text by Kileasa Wong, the principle of the Chinese Public School on Fisgard Street and editor of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association's Victoria Chinatown Newsletter.

References

  1. ^ a b Yee, Paul (2005). Chinatown: An Illustrated History of the Chinese Communities of Victoria. James Lorimer & Company. ISBN 1550288423.  
  2. ^ Canada's Tentative List for World Heritage Sites at Parks Canada

See also

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