Canada's oldest Chinatown may be by comparison small, but it is a huge cultural treat packed with history! Do check out Fan Tan Alley and imagine as you walk through the famously narrow street what it must have been like with all its opium dens!
Established in 1858 Victoria's Chinatown is the oldest in Canada and second only in age to the Chinatown in San Francisco (USA). Like many Chinatowns, the historic community in Victoria began with the Chinese migration to British Columbia during the Fraser River gold rush and coal-mining era during the late 1850s and 1860s. As typical with Chinatown buildings, most were constructed in Western styles of the day but with a few Oriental features incorporated into structures such as recessed balconies, 'cheater floors', Chinese character inscriptions, and upturned eaves, tiling and roof corners.
Canada's first Chinatown is also the only functioning Chinatown portraying a complete history in this capacity from the early arrival of Chinese to present day. While small compared to other Chinatowns elsewhere, it is a bustling and vibrant community with stores, markets, and historic structures well worth planning a visit for. Victoria's Chinatown was designated in 1995 as a National Historic Site of Canada.
Visit Chinatown historic landmarks in Victoria:
- Gate of Harmonious Interest: built in 1981, this colourful symbolic entrance to the neighbourhood is located on Fisgard Street. The lions guarding the gate were a gift from Victoria's "sister city" of Suzhou in China.
- Fan Tan Alley: situated in the heart of the Victoria's Chinatown connecting Fisgard Street and Pandora Avenue, Fan Tan Alley is Canada's narrowest street measuring 0.9 metres at its closest point. Historically the alley was famous for its opium and gambling dens.
- Chinese Public School: established in 1908 for Chinese-born children who were ostracized and not allowed to attend regular schools during that era. Today this school continues to teach Chinese language, cultural traditions and history, while the building details many architectural interests.
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