As the Lunar New Year approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on the complex history and heritage of Chinese Canadians. And if you’re wondering where the country’s oldest Chinatown is located, read on.
According to the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society (VCMS), Victoria’s Chinatown in BC is the oldest surviving Chinatown in Canada, and one of the first to be established in North America.
Located on Vancouver Island, the historic Chinatown is also the only one in the continent to retain its 19th-century buildings and “labyrinthine features.” This gives the area a high heritage value, according to VCMS and Parks Canada.
History of Victoria’s Chinatown
Dating all the way back to the 1850s during the Fraser River Gold Rush, Chinatown was established following the arrival of wealthy San Francisco merchants at Fort Victoria, who set up stores near Centennial Square. They were followed by labourers from San Francisco and China, who were sent to pan for gold in the Fraser River to supply these shops.
By 1862, Fort Victoria had become the City of Victoria. The population sat at 5,000 people, with 300 Chinese immigrants settled in the downtown area near Cormorant and Fisgard Streets. This is where Canada’s first Chinatown would come to be.
In 1886, the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, making Granville Village (soon to become the City of Vancouver) Canada’s premier port on the west coast.
According to the VCMS, the 1911 national census listed 3,559 Chinese residents in Vancouver and 3,458 in Victoria, making it the second-largest Chinese settlement in Canada after Vancouver.
Through the first decade of the 20th century, Victoria had the largest Chinese population in Canada, according to Parks Canada.
In 1955, Victoria’s Chinatown was designated as a national historic site.
Today, the buildings retain their picturesque arcades, famous narrow alleys, and enclosed courtyards, representing the rich heritage of Chinese Canadians in BC.
Visitors can check out a myriad of local shops, restaurants, and galleries, including a record store called The Turntable, a slew of gift shops and specialty stores, Friends and Family Bake, and The Faraway vintage clothing, to name a few.
So there you have it, BC. If you haven’t already visited Victoria’s Chinatown, consider this a friendly reminder of its historic significance!
Where: Victoria, BC