Chinatown, British Columbia – A Tiny Gem

There are Chinatowns all over the US and Canada. The oldest is in San Francisco, the second oldest is in Victoria, British Columbia.

downloadThe Chinatown in BC is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and was established shortly after the gold rush of 1858 when there was a massive excursion of miners from all over the world, but particularly California, to the Fraser River. Many migrants liked Victoria and stayed there either after striking gold, or failing to find gold.

Chinatown, Victoria is tiny, only one block by two blocks. So as well as being the oldest Chinatown in the western world, it’s also the smallest.

Chinatown is today a bustling destination for locals and tourists. Locals are mainly Chinese-Canadians who have been in the area for generations. Victoria’s Chinatown is now surrounded by cultural, entertainment venues as well as being a venue itself. Chinatown is now conveniently just minutes away from other sites.

Gateway-to-Chinatown-377Despite the diminutive side of the place Chinatown has a lot of secrets. Behind the Classical and Renaissance building facades are the remnants of the Chinatown of old: secret passageways, remnants of opium dens, gambling parlors and brothels.

Over the years Old Chinatown reflected the varying amounts of opportunities in this area. Early Chinese pioneers had to overcome great physical and social obstacles to establish today’s prosperous and diverse society. The community has withstood extreme degrees of upheaval and injustice that helps define its unique character.

Post WW2 Chinese Canadians were granted equal rights and full Canadian citizenship. Old Chinatown became less populated as accommodations in other areas were sought. The preservation of Old Chinatown in the 80’s attracted artists and musicians who increased the occupancy rate and helped revive a previously declining Old Chinatown.

Rejuvenation efforts are continually made to restore and preserve Old Chinatown’s unique character and history. Although seemingly small; Old Chinatown once stretched over six square city blocks where thousands lived and worked in the largest Chinatown north of San Francisco. Urban renewal was and continues to be the main reason unique Old Chinatown buildings disappear.

Currently Old Chinatown remains a sanctuary that offers respite from the urban status quo. Much wisdom and many holistic health benefits are continually derived from Old Chinatown’s customs, philosophy, medicine, gourmet cuisine and many cultures. It is a colorful mixed community that endears and prospers.

Here’s a great little tour of an old gambling den in Victoria:








A Brief History Of Victoria BC

There are few places more British than Victoria, British Columbia. In fact sometimes this beautiful city seems to out-Britain Britain. But don’t take my word for it – visit.

Thousands of years before Captain Cook became the first non-aboriginal man to set foot on Vancouver Island in 1778, Victoria’s pristine wilderness had been home to many aboriginal tribes.

Several aboriginal families lived on Southern Vancouver Island, each distinguished by a different different dialect of the North Straits Salish or language. The families or tribes were the Saanich, the Songhees, and the Sooke First Nations peoples.

In 1843, James Douglas chose Victoria as a Hudson Bay Company trading post. The post was eventually renamed Fort Victoria, in honour of Queen Victoria. Between 1850 and 1854, Governor James Douglas negotiated fourteen treaties with Coast Salish peoples on Vancouver Island. Today it is generally agreed that most of the native tribes thought they were signing peace treaties, not giving up their land in perpetuity.

The Lekwungen were then relocated to reserves, one of which overlooked Victoria’s Inner Harbour and was later moved to Esquimalt.

In 1858, gold was discovered on the lower Fraser River, resulting in a population explosion in the fledgling settlement of B.C. Though gold was first discovered on the Fraser River by First Nations people in 1857, Governor Douglas managed to keep this information quiet for a year, certain that the area would become overrun with prospectors. He was of course correct. When the news leaked our Victoria and BC were changed forever.

The estimated settler population in Victoria in 1858 was approximately 500, but news of the gold quickly spread and within two months, more than 30 000 gold miners descended upon the Fraser Valley through Victoria. Many of the miners came from the United States, where they had tried their luck in the California gold rush of 1848. Others were migrants from Britain, Canada, and other parts of Europe.

The first ship bringing these modern argonauts, the “Commodore” – a wooden side-wheel American steamer, entered Victoria harbor on Sunday The gold rush also brought the arrival of several thousand Chinese immigrants, who continued to arrive throughout the late nineteenth century to labor on projects such as the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s.